An Idaho Falls hospital has partnered with the state to administer treatment that helps keep COVID-19 patients out of the hospital.
Idaho has selected Mountain View Hospital to administer monoclonal antibody infusion treatments to COVID-19 patients, Dr. Christine Hahn, the state’s top public health researcher, said at a news conference Tuesday.
In late August, Gov. Brad Little announced plans to open up three antibody treatment centers across the state to deal with surging COVID-19 hospitalizations, which have now ballooned so much that hospitals are in a crisis.
The Idaho Falls monoclonal antibody treatment center is the second to open up; one opened in north Idaho earlier this month. A third center planned for Treasure Valley had not opened by Tuesday.
Mountain View Hospital has been administering monoclonal antibodies to COVID-19 patients since last fall, pharmacy director Whitney Cooley told the Post Register in an interview Wednesday.
“We were very early adopters,” she said. “We knew it would help our hospitals not get overwhelmed.”
Cooley said as part of its partnership with the state, the state will provide free monoclonal antibody treatment and direct funding to the hospital. Cooley said patients may be charged an administration fee that insurance will cover.
In a news release Tuesday, Little’s office said 32 hospitals are also administering monoclonal antibody treatments.
Little’s office also said hundreds of Idahoans have used the treatments since July. At the north Idaho site, run by Heritage Health, providers have treated 90 patients in the first three days, Hahn said.
The state partnership will bring more funding and expanded services, Hahn said, like longer hours in Idaho Falls. Hahn said sites may be added in Blackfoot and Pocatello.
The Idaho Falls clinic runs on weekday afternoons and evenings, and runs mornings and afternoons during the weekend, facility leaders say.
To be treated, patients need a doctor’s order, said Trecia Trost, nurse supervisor at the hospital. Monoclonal antibodies can be used to treat patients at high risk for severe COVID-19, including people who both have the virus and have been exposed to it. Risk can include underlying health conditions and age, Cooley said.
Idaho’s push for monoclonal treatment comes while the federal government has limited access to the infusions due to shortages.
Idaho has been given informal word, without actual numbers, about a reduction in monoclonal antibody treatments made available to states, Hahn said.
“At least for a short period of time we’re expecting a decrease in the amount that is coming to Idaho,” she said.
And Hahn stressed that monoclonal antibodies are “not a replacement for a vaccine.”
“It is not a wise strategy to hold off on getting vaccinated thinking, ‘I’ll just go ahead and get that antibody if I do get sick,’ Hahn said. And there are two reasons for that, she said. “One is the antibodies don’t give you long-lasting protection. They will help. They should help keep you out of the hospital from getting sick. People report feeling much better after the treatment pretty quickly. But the antibodies, once they’re gone, they’re gone. It doesn’t teach your body to make antibodies, and you are just as vulnerable to COVID as you were before.”
The other reason the antibody treatment is not a replacement for the vaccine is the treatment may not be available if shortages persist, Hahn said. “You don’t want to rely on that strategy,” she said.
In Tennessee, officials have limited the use of monoclonal antibodies for unvaccinated patients, reports NBC News. The move aligns with federal guidance.
Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to update the spelling of Trecia Trost’s name.