Sep. 15—The monoclonal antibodies therapy facility which helps treat COVID-19 patients in Anniston has temporarily closed due a shortage of the medicine required for the procedure.
Dr. Almena Free, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Stringfellow and Regional Medical Center, said during an RMC social media broadcast Wednesday that the U.S Department of Health and Human Services and the Alabama Department of Public Health are now "appropriating" the monoclonal antibodies treatment. The treatment therapy stimulates a patient's own immune system to help fight the disease and has proven useful for patients with mild to moderate COVID-positive symptoms.
"We have none at this present time, we're working very diligently," said Free, to restock the clinic, which is located at the former Tenth Street Elementary School in Anniston.
"That was a way for us to treat people before we could get them into the hospital," said Free.
Kandi Williams, infection preventionist and nurse manager, said the government and the health department will run "point" on the allocation of the medication required for the procedure.
"As they receive the medications they will be allocated based on need to the communities throughout the state where they feel like it needs to go best, and so we've put our request out there. We have indicated that we are out of the monoclonal antibodies," said Williams.
Williams said it will be a "day by day" basis for patients who have appointments for the procedure and hopefully the medication will be restocked soon.
According to a press release Monday from the the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, doctors with the association are voicing strong concerns that the federal government is taking steps to limit access to monoclonal antibody treatment.
Last week, the HHS notified state health agencies that efforts to expand monoclonal antibody therapy locations have been placed on hold.
There are currently 228 locations in Alabama that provide monoclonal antibody treatment, 142 of which are non-hospital locations such as physicians' offices and urgent care centers.
According to Dr. Aruna Arora, a Huntsville physician who is president of the state's medical association, many patients receiving monoclonal antibody treatment report feeling better within 24 to 48 hours.
"It can be a life-saver if given in the first 10 days of symptoms," said Arora.
A sign on the door at the former school on Wednesday urged COVID-19 patients to reach out to their primary care provider for any significant changes in their COVID status. The sign also included a message from the HHS.
"As you may know, the increased incidence of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 caused a substantial surge in the utilization of the monoclonal antibody drugs, particularly in areas of the country with low vaccination rates. On Sept. 13, HHS transitioned from the direct ordering process for mAbs to a state-coordinated distribution system."
The HHS message went on to state that distribution of the antibody treatment will be based on COVID-19 case burden and state health departments will determine where the product goes in their jurisdictions.
COVID NUMBERS FALLING
Free said COVID numbers are falling locally and statewide.
Free said that last week there were 96 COVID positive cases at RMC, while as of yesterday 69 total COVID cases were being treated at RMC.Unvaccinated patients made up 89 percent of the patients being treated according to Free.
"As you guys have known our numbers were very high last week, we have come down somewhat, thank goodness," said Free.
"It's across the state that the numbers are going down," she said.
According to the Alabama Department of Public Health, there were 3,944 COVID-19 new confirmed cases on Tuesday. Free said that number can range on a daily basis from 2,000 to 5,000.
On Tuesday there were 761 COVID patients in intensive care units across the state and 558 patients — a number that changes frequently — were on ventilators, Free said.
Free said there were 25 pregnant COVID patients across the state and two of those were in the ICU but none on ventilators.
There were also 46 pediatric patients across the state with 21 of those in the ICU and seven of those on ventilators, said Free.
Free said there were three deaths yesterday in a 24-hour period. For the month of September there have been 30 deaths at RMC and for the year there have been 282 deaths due to COVID.
At Stringfellow hospital's COVID unit there were eight patients with one in the ICU on a ventilator and there have been two deaths this week due to COVID, said Free.
Free said that the nurses at RMC have had to triple up on their duties due to the pandemic.
"Unfortunately we had to reappropriate nurses in different areas to take care of our ICU patients, which means the nurses that are typically taking care of two patients in ICU are tripled. What that means is that they're now taking care of three patients," she said.
Dr. Raul R. Magadia, infectious disease specialist and director of the pandemic unit at RMC, said the average stay for COVID patients depends on their condition. For those patients who are in severe condition and may need supplemental oxygen, the stay is from five to seven days. For critically ill COVID patients the stay might be two to three weeks.
According to CNN one in 500 Americans have now died of COVID-19 since the coronavirus pandemic began last year. The U.S. death toll reached 663,913 people on Tuesday night, according to John Hopkins University data.
Staff writer Bill Wilson: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @bwilson_star.