MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama could see its shipments of monoclonal antibodies reduced as federal officials take over distribution to equitably dispense the limited life-saving resource during the COVID-19 pandemic, the state health officer said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the change was needed after just seven states— Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and Louisiana— accounted for 70% of monoclonal antibody orders in the country. “Given this reality, we must work to ensure our supply of these life-saving therapies remains available for all states and territories, not just some,” the department said in a statement.
The seven states are also among those that have the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
State Health Officer Scott Harris said Friday that federal officials told states Monday that providers would no longer be able to order the drugs directly but would have to place those orders through state health departments. Federal officials will use a formula to decide how many doses — of the about 150,000 available each week— each state will get as they ration the treatments in response to a national shortage.
“They will allocate the total number of doses we will have for our state based on our case numbers and our hospitalization numbers, Harris said.
Harris said he is concerned that the change would disrupt the supply. “We are really sorry to say there are probably going to be some patients who aren’t able to access that drug who thought they were going to have that available to them,” Harris said.
Antibody treatment is a highly effective therapy that can blunt the worst effects of COVID-19 and prevent the disease from getting worse and requiring hospitalization.
“There is no question that the monoclonal antibodies keep people out of the hospital,” Dr. Mike Saag, an infectious disease expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said this week. The Medical Association of the State of Alabama issued a statement this week expressing concern that it will end up limiting supply and access to the effective treatment.
Doctors continue to emphasize that vaccination, rather than a secondary treatment, is the best way to prevent severe COVID-19 disease.