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Asante begins offering lab-made COVID-19 antibody treatment

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Asante has started offering laboratory-made COVID-19 antibody treatment that can help stop people from falling seriously ill or dying from the virus.

The treatment is available for high-risk people with a doctor’s referral in Asante’s nine-county coverage area in Southern Oregon and Northern California.

Asante Ashland Community Hospital is operating an infusion site where people newly diagnosed with the virus can get monoclonal antibody treatment. It’s given on an outpatient basis to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

The treatment can reduce the severity of symptoms and the risk of hospitalization. People diagnosed with the virus should ask their doctors if they are candidates for monoclonal antibodies, said Dr. Lee Shapley, administrator of Asante Ashland Community Hospital.

“By treating people at the early onset of their COVID diagnosis, this therapy can help people recover faster with fewer lingering effects of the disease and keep more people out of the hospital,” he said.

Once people fall severely ill and need supplemental oxygen in a hospital, it’s too late for the treatment, he said.

High-risk people who may qualify include anyone older than 65 and those with cardiovascular disease, hypertension, respiratory disease, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, sickle cell disease, cirrhosis of the liver and people with suppressed immune systems, including those with cancer. People with a body mass index over 35 can also qualify.

People with a body mass index of 30 or higher fall into the obese range, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When viruses attack, people’s immune systems create antibodies that latch onto the viruses and help the immune system destroy the invaders. Laboratory-made monoclonal antibodies infused into the body can jumpstart the fight against viruses.

While monoclonal antibodies have been used against cancer cells, monoclonal antibodies that target the COVID-19 virus are new.

Asante has given monoclonal antibody treatment to dozens of COVID-19-positive people after starting the care in a limited fashion around Christmas, Shapley said.

“A lot of people don’t know that this therapy is available. They become very excited to see there is a new treatment available to them for COVID,” Shapley said of patients he’s seen who received the infusion.

Asante announced Wednesday it is offering the experimental treatment, which has emergency use authorization from the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Asante is one of four hospital systems in the state to have the treatment. The other hospitals are in Coos Bay on the coast and Baker City and Heppner in Eastern Oregon.

Shapley said it’s not easy to create an infusion site for COVID-19 monoclonal antibodies.

People diagnosed with the COVID-19 virus are infectious and they have to be watched over by medical staff for one hour during the infusion and one hour afterward.

Community donations and the Asante Foundation made it possible to create a COVID-19 monoclonal antibody infusion site using space at the Ashland hospital. The site has needed equipment such as infusion chairs and IV pumps, plus new flooring, fresh paint and furnishings, Asante officials said.

“Donor generosity made this infusion unit reality, and it continues to help patients and health care workers through the pandemic and beyond,” said Asante Foundation Campaign Director Andrea Reeder.

Frontline health care workers have taken on the challenge of providing the infusions and treating COVID-19 patients with compassion, Shapley said.

“Front line staff stepped up to do this. Front line staff are tired right now. We’ve been fighting this for 12 months. We’re also trying to vaccinate the community. There’s a lot to do,” he said.

Oregon and the nation are in the midst of a COVID-19 vaccination rollout, with Asante, Providence and other local health care providers giving shots.

Asante is offering the monoclonal antibody treatment bamlanivimab made by Eli Lilly and Company, plus the therapeutic antibody cocktail casirivimab/imdevimab made by Regeneron.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

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Antibody treatment Ashland resident Duncan McWhorter registered nurse Shannon Chambers at Asante Ashland Community Hospital courtesy Asante.jpeg