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COVID patients have trouble getting monoclonal antibody treatment due to short supply

'It's heartbreaking.'
Posted at 8:21 AM, Dec 31, 2021

(WXYZ) — Although treatment options have become much better during the pandemic, the recent surge is stretching hospitals thin, meaning some treatments are not available to everyone.

“She was our everything. Our absolute everything," Danette Fultz of Rochester Hills said of her mother. "I'm angry.”

Fultz is spending this holiday season mourning the loss of her 73-year-old mother Betty Sue Halcomb. Betty Sue, who was vaccinated, tested positive for COVID-19 around Thanksgiving. She was hospitalized December 1, and 12 days later on December 12, she was gone.

“It’s just like the most empty feeling," Fultz said. "For it to be from this virus, it’s unbelievable.”

As soon as Betty Sue was diagnosed, she and Fultz began asking about monoclonal antibody treatments. It's something the state health department says "has become essential for treating individuals who are experiencing mild-to-moderately severe COVID-19 and meet high risk criteria."

However, supply was so limited, Betty Sue's doctor couldn’t find treatment in time.

“Its heartbreaking. It’s absolutely heartbreaking," Fultz said. "I was watching her decline knowing this was something that could possibly help her. I've seen it help other people and here she was getting worse and worse and there was nothing we can do about it. There’s one treatment out there that’s helping people and we can’t get it.”

Monoclonal antibodies are usually given as an infusion within roughly 7 days of infection. They’ve been an important tool for doctors to prevent hospitalization.

“We have a number of therapies that are really effective, but they’re just in incredibly short supply for the next month or two and that’s true of monoclonal antibodies,” said Dr. Daniel Kaul, Infectious Disease Specialist at Michigan Medicine.

Dr. Kaul says the shortage has only gotten worse because the two most widely used monoclonal antibody treatments don’t work against omicron. His hospital stopped using those two treatments starting on Christmas Eve, and are now left with only one treatment option.

“There’s one monoclonal antibody that does work against Omicron, but there's very little of it available," Dr. Kaul said. "So people should not count on being able to access that the way they were able to a few months ago.”

Justin Williams of Troy is currently experiencing that first hand.

“Just sounds like high demand everywhere I call," Williams said. "They put me on a waiting list. I can't get right in.”

Williams is currently at home battling COVID-19. His doctor recommended he find monoclonal antibody treatment, but right now that seems unlikely to happen.

“I also don't want to take one away from somebody who really needs it you know, but it's kind of a gamble," Williams said. "Am I gonna get worse? Am I gonna get better?”

Fultz says her mother passed on the same date as her father, 7 years later. She’s thankful for the time she had, but still wonders what might have been if that critical treatment was there.

“I don't know that that would have saved my mother's life, but it would have given her a chance because she was vaccinated,” Fultz said. “It's still really hard to believe we’re almost 2 years into this pandemic and we don’t have supply here to help people, especially in a surge like it is right now.”