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Upper Chesapeake in Bel Air offering some patients COVID-19 antibody treatments like former President Trump received

For certain people with a moderate case of COVID-19, underlying conditions and a referral, Upper Chesapeake Health is now offering antibody treatments, including the one former President Donald Trump received when he contracted the coronavirus.

The monoclonal antibody treatments could reduce the illness’s progression and patients’ need for hospitalization, according to the health system.

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Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off viruses, according to a statement from UCH. If given within 10 days of symptoms manifesting, the treatments have been demonstrated to reduce progression of severe COVID-19 cases that can necessitate hospitalization.

The two monoclonal antibody treatments UCH offers, made by Regeneron and Eli Lilly, were both granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration in November. Trump received the Regeneron experimental therapy during his stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center when he contracted COVID-19 in October.

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Dr. Fermin Barrueto Jr., chief medical officer and incident commander for COVID-19 response at Upper Chesapeake, said the hospital is alternately administering each of the drug cocktails to patients depending on available supply, but both treatments are conceptually the same.

Every 23 antibody treatments equates to one fewer serious hospitalization for COVID-19, Barrueto said. As of Wednesday night, Upper Chesapeake had performed nine of them.

Antibody treatments are not a substitute for the vaccine, which is in short supply, he said, and those who get the treatment should wait 90 days before getting their vaccine.

“There are not a lot of therapies that work against COVID, and every single one that does, we want to maximize its use,” Barrueto said.

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The treatments are meant for non-hospitalized COVID-19 positive individuals with mild-to-moderate symptoms who have underlying health conditions like chronic kidney disease and diabetes, among other conditions, along with people over 65. Those 55 or older with cardiovascular disease, hypertension or a chronic respiratory disease are also eligible.

Patients who fit the criteria are being referred to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center’s COVID Infusion Center by community physicians and urgent care centers only, according to the statement. A team at the hospital will review the referrals and will contact approved patients directly.

The review may take between 24 and 48 hours, and the infusion center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday by appointment only. The treatment takes one hour to administer intravenously.

The drug has to be given within 10 days of symptoms appearing, Barrueto said, which means that people need to act quickly to get a test and a referral from a physician or urgent care center. The question of cost is fluid, he said, but lack of insurance or ability to pay will not stop anyone from getting it.

“One way or the other, we can take care of anyone, regardless of ability to pay,” he said.

Lab-made antibodies specifically target the coronavirus and trigger an immune response to it, Barrueto said. The drugs are provided by the state, he said, and while there is not an issue of supply, there is an issue of education; even some doctors did not know the treatment was available in Maryland, much less Harford County.

The hospital is working to reach more patients, he said.

Monoclonal antibody therapy is also available at the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital.

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