UPMC: Antibody study supports faster treatment method to prevent hospitalizations

·5 min read

Dec. 3—PITTSBURGH — A UPMC study of people with COVID-19 who received monoclonal antibodies showed that a syringe injection into the skin was just as effective as time-consuming intravenous (IV) injections, health officials said.

Given the treatment method's success at keeping people with mild COVID-19 symptoms from being hospitalized, or worse, the results can enable medical professionals to serve more patients from more locations, said Dr. Erin McCreary, infectious diseases pharmacist at UPMC and clinical assistant professor in Pitt's School of Medicine.

And the results for people who received the treatment "are far superior" to those with symptoms who did not receive the antibody injections, McCreary said, noting people with antibody treatment were 60% less likely to be hospitalized or die.

McCreary was a lead author in the study and discussed the findings during a Thursday press conference.

The study's results are exciting, she said, because they will enable more patients to receive Regeneron injections by more staff rather than the small percentage of medical professionals who are IV-certified.

Delta cases are spiking statewide and hospitals are struggling to fill medical jobs.

It'll cut down on long appointment times for patients receiving the treatment, allowing overwhelmed staff to help more patients, she said.

UPMC tracked more than 2,000 COVID patients who received IV infusions and subcutaneous injections for 28 days afterward and compared them to populations who developed symptoms but did not get antibody treatment, hospital officials said.

Much like UPMC, Conemaugh Health System's network also offers the same monoclonal treatment for people experiencing mild to moderate symptoms who have tested positive for the virus and are referred by a doctor.

UPMC: Actions save lives

UPMC officials said the results also reinforce that existing messages — and measures — matter greatly as the world continues battling the COVID-19 pandemic.

McCreary and UPMC Chief Medical Officer Donald Yealy urged people to get tested as quickly as possible if they suspect they have COVID-19 — not just to prevent the spread, but also to improve their own chances of survival or avoid complications that will require hospital stays.

An early diagnosis can mean the difference between getting an antibody injection that will allow someone to quickly recover at home and spending weeks inside a busy hospital over the holidays.

The same goes for vaccinations and booster shots — which are proven to vastly reduce hospitalization rates. Even as UPMC's hospitals are seeing climbing cases across their network — from western Pennsylvania to Altoona and Bedford — "vaccinations continue to be the safest and most effective way to protect ourselves and our loved ones ... and avoid hospitalizations and death," McCreary said.

That includes people who had the virus in 2020 or earlier this year and have avoided getting vaccinated since because of it, UPMC officials said, noting the protective boost doesn't last forever.

Omicron studies forthcoming

Across western Pennsylvania, the delta variant is being blamed for more than 99% of the new cases being reported.

But a new variant is emerging abroad — and the first case was reported this week in the U.S. by a traveler who returned home from South Africa.

The omicron strain features a number of mutations from the original COVID-19 virus. and scientists are working to determine how effective current vaccines and boosters will be against it and what dangers it poses — such as its spreadability, according to Graham Snyder, UPMC's medical director for infection prevention.

There were early indications the Regeneron antibodies may not work as well on the omicron strain, South Africa researchers have said. But UPMC officials noted that that's just one of several antibody treatments — and hospital networks are able to gather new data and pivot to new methods "within hours" when new information emerges.

UPMC and others in their field are already positioning themselves to begin tracking and studying the omicron variant, Snyder noted. Whatever the results bring — and regardless of when it arrives in Pennsylvania — the medical community is far better prepared than it was a year ago, he said.

Masking, social distancing, vaccinations, boosters — "and staying home if you're sick" — are all proven methods that will continue to protect people from the virus, emerging variants and other respiratory viruses that are now circulating, Snyder said.

"My plea to you this holiday season," added Yealy, "is for everyone to practice these simple actions that can keep us safe, including masking. If we do that, I believe we can have a happy, healthy holiday season."

Conemaugh, UPMC will abide by federal ruling

Health system officials from both UPMC and Conemaugh Health System said they were both well aware of a federal ruling this week that puts a halt to a federal COVID-19 requirement for health care workers.

While both said they believe vaccinations are the right step for their workers to take, it will won't be a requirement — at this point.

"Conemaugh Heath System is aware that the implementation of the federal COVID-19 vaccine requirement has been temporarily halted. Given this, our providers and employees are no longer required to be vaccinated or request a medical or religious accommodation by the deadlines previously set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)," Conemaugh Health System officials wrote in a statement to media. "As always, we remain committed to fulfilling all of our regulatory and compliance obligations, and we will take the appropriate action depending on the final outcome of the legal proceedings.

"Regardless of how the courts may rule ... we trust the science and know it is our best defense against the virus," hospital officials wrote.

Cambria County added 132 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday — its highest total this week.

The county recorded two additional deaths, with Blair and Centre counties adding the same.

Cambria now has 567 deaths, 49 over the past 30 days.

Somerset County added one additional COVID-19 death and now has 279 total.

Bedford and Indiana counties also added one each and have 193 and 269 deaths respectively.

Pennsylvania added 9,143 new cases Thursday.

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