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The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Controversy surrounds the popular monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 as hospitals in Tennessee are following differing protocols for determining who is provided with the treatment, resulting in many sick patients being denied the antibodies.
The Food and Drug Administration approved an Emergency Use Authorization for the treatment last year. According to the FDA, monoclonal antibodies are “laboratory-produced molecules that act as substitute antibodies that can restore, enhance, or mimic the immune system’s attack on cells. Monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 may block the virus that causes COVID-19 from attaching to human cells, making it more difficult for the virus to reproduce and cause harm. Monoclonal antibodies may also neutralize a virus.”
This week, the Tennessee Department of Health announced a national shortage of the treatment. Because of this shortage, the TDOH is recommending that those antibodies be reserved for patients who are most likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19, leaving the final decision up to individual medical providers.
“Our recommendation to monoclonal antibody providers or individual facilities across the state is if they need to prioritize distribution of the treatment, the NIH guidelines are the recommended approach for that prioritization, including prioritizing those who are most likely to be hospitalized. Ultimately, this comes down to providers’ clinical judgment to ensure those most at risk are receiving this treatment,” TDH stated.
The majority of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state are unvaccinated. This means they are prioritized to receive the treatment.
Some Tennessee residents say this recommendation is discriminatory and punishes those who have chosen to be vaccinated.
Reverend Dr. Donna Whitney is a Pastoral Assistant at Metropolitan Interdenominational Church in Nashville. She says state leadership is at fault for the lack of clear requirements for healthcare providers.
“The only reason that monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 is in short supply in Tennessee and in other southern states is that these states have the highest proportions of unvaccinated persons, largely due to the politically motivated posturing of their state governments, which have misrepresented the facts about how the virus spreads and to whom, as well as the risk of serious illness and death. In every one of their decisions, our governor and legislature have compromised the health of our citizens by prioritizing petty partisan politics over health.” Said Rev. Dr. Whitney.
She says that policies that require that the antibodies be reserved for those who are unvaccinated goes against standard medical practices and gives those who have chosen not to be vaccinated to have unfair access to treatment.
“To add the requirement of being unvaccinated departs from prior triage practices and treats the status of being unvaccinated as a medical condition, which it is not. Being unvaccinated in a state where there is an overabundance of vaccine supply is not a medical condition. It is a choice,” Whitney said.
In some cases, however, vaccination status is not the only determining factor in receiving the antibodies.
One Sumner County couple claims they were refused the antibodies because they were not old enough.
Jim Hawkins is 64, and his wife Carri is 63. Both were diagnosed with COVID-19 in August, and both were denied the antibodies by Sumner Regional Medical Center because they were under the age of 65.
The Tennessee Department of Health confirmed to Hawkins that “the antibody treatment should be available to anyone who falls in a high-risk category.”
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Carri Hawkins ended up in the hospital two days later with COVID pneumonia and blood clots in her lungs. While she did ultimately leave the hospital, she still fights some of the side effects, and the couple wonders if that would be different had she received the vaccine.
Sumner Regional Medical Center did not comment specifically on the Hawkins’ situation due to privacy constraints, but a spokesperson did confirm that “Sumner Regional Medical Center experienced an overwhelming increase of COVID-19 positive patients seeking care at our hospital in the month of August. This increase significantly depleted our supply of monoclonal antibody treatment. In an effort to allocate this therapy to patients with the greatest need, we temporarily implemented more stringent criteria for determining candidates for this therapy.”
They did note also that “this is an evolving situation, and we will continue to work with local, state and federal officials to manage and appropriately allocate our supply of this important treatment.”
Hawkins says he and his wife fit the criteria based on the Department of Health’s latest recommendations and expressed his frustration at the lack of continuity in protocol for administering the treatment.
According to NBC News, Southern states have used the majority of the national supply of monoclonal antibodies. Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Texas, Mississippi, Georgia, and Louisiana account for 70 percent of the supply. All of those states except Florida have vaccination rates that fall below the national average.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com