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Topeka Doctor: Monoclonal antibody treatment no substitute for COVID-19 vaccine

FILE - Monoclonal antibody treatment
FILE - Monoclonal antibody treatment(KFYR)
Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 6:03 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - As many misconceptions about the COVID-19 virus and vaccines emerge, one Topeka doctor hopes to shine some light on the difference between monoclonal antibody treatment and COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Melina Keithly, an emergency medical physician at Topeka ER & Hospital, says one of the most common misconceptions she has encountered about COVID-19 is that monoclonal antibody treatment is seen as a replacement for vaccination by some.

“Monoclonal antibodies are not a substitute for getting vaccinated against COVID,” Dr. Keithly said. “The COVID vaccines can help protect you from catching the virus while monoclonal antibody treatment is for high-risk patients who are already infected with the virus.”

The hospital said the risk factors include high blood pressure, obesity, coronary artery disease, pregnancy and being 65 or older.

Dr. Keithly said the misconceptions likely stem from unfamiliarity with the terminology.

“Patients have heard the term ‘monoclonal antibodies in relation to COVID-19, but they may not have been told what exactly they are,” Dr. Keithly said. “Monoclonal antibodies are synthesized proteins that boost your immune system by helping it fight off pathogens, in this case, the virus that causes COVID.”

Dr. Keithly said monoclonal antibodies have been used for many years in cancer treatments and for rheumatological disorders, which affect muscles, bones and connective tissues. She said the Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID in November 2020 after clinical trials showed the treatment can decrease both the length of illness and risk of hospitalization for high-risk patients infected with the virus.

The hospital said high-risk patients are also required to meet other conditions to be eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment.

“The first is that you must be within 10 days of illness onset,” Dr. Keithly said. “You also must be age 12 or older, weigh at least 88 pounds, and not be so sick that you require hospitalization.”

“We are seeing breakthrough infections of those already vaccinated,” she added. “So even if you’ve already received a COVID vaccine, you can still be evaluated for monoclonal antibody treatment.”

For those who think they could be a candidate for monoclonal antibody treatment, Dr. Keithly said she advised them to see a doctor right away.

“Any patient with concerning symptoms should see their doctor or come to the ER for a full evaluation,” she said. “Monoclonal antibodies are one weapon we have here in our arsenal, but the most important thing is to see a physician if you’re feeling sick. Together, you and your physician can decide what therapy is best for you.”

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