More than 1,000 receive antibody infusions for COVID-19 at VUMCFeb. 10, 2021, 3:25 PM
by Bill Snyder
Ken and Kathy Hazelwood were shocked when they both tested positive for COVID-19 in early December. The retired Murfreesboro couple has no idea how they became infected.
“We always wear masks every time we go out,” said Ken Hazelwood, 79. “And we don’t go out that much.”
Hazelwood’s doctor, Victor Legner, MD, MS, a specialist in geriatric medicine and associate professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, urged them to get tested again. The results were the same.
Two days later, the COVID Infusion Clinic at VUMC called to offer an antibody treatment given as an intravenous infusion that can reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 complications requiring hospital care.
They agreed without hesitation and received their infusions on Dec. 14. Besides some lingering fatigue from the infection and his wife’s cough, they’re both doing well. “We’ll take anything that could possibly help,” Hazelwood said.
As of Feb. 8, 1,065 outpatients have received antibody infusions since the clinic opened on Nov. 18. Clinic officials estimated that the infusions have prevented about 70 patients from developing severe COVID-19 illness requiring hospitalization or emergency department evaluation.
“This program has been extremely successful,” said Clinic Manager Kim Lippard, MBA, MSN. “Not only have we prevented hospitalizations but we have been able to provide many of the patients with a shortened course of symptoms, which has led to patients feeling better faster.
“Our teams have worked very hard and provided a high level of care for this patient population,” Lippard said. “I am very proud of the impact we have been able to make.”
“We have been really fortunate to have support from the Vanderbilt community,” added Karen Bloch, MD, MPH, the clinic’s medical director and professor of Medicine at VUMC. “Providers have been proactive about referring patients for infusion.”
The infusion delivers laboratory-made monoclonal antibodies that target and neutralize a protein on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency approval for the administration of two investigational COVID-19 vaccines, and later this month will consider approving a third, it will take several months for enough people to be vaccinated to significantly slow the course of the pandemic.
In the meantime, the antibody infusions may help keep people out of the hospital. A randomized, controlled clinical trial found that only 3% of high-risk COVID-19 patients required hospital or emergency department care within 28 days after receiving the antibody infusion, compared to 10% of patients who were given an inactive placebo.
While there is no charge for the antibody therapy, patients’ insurance will be billed for infusion services. To qualify, patients must meet the criteria for high risk that were determined by the FDA as part of its emergency use authorization.
High-risk patients include those 65 years old and older, those with immunosuppression, and those with comorbidities (medical conditions) that place them at increased risk for hospitalization. The onset of COVID-19 symptoms must have occurred within the previous 10 days.
Currently there are six infusion chairs in VUMC’s COVID Infusion Clinic, and up to 24 patients can be treated per day.
The infusion itself takes about an hour, and then patients are monitored for a second hour to make sure they don’t have any reaction to the antibody treatment. So far, there have been no serious allergic reactions to the infusions, and most patients have felt significantly better within 24 to 48 hours after the infusion, Lippard said.