It seems that most of the news we hear about the coronavirus pandemic lately is bad news.
But while there is no outright cure for COVID-19, a helpful treatment has come to Cape Cod Hospital in the form of a mobile unit offering monoclonal antibody therapy (mAb). The mobile unit is a first of its kind on Cape Cod and only one of two such units in Massachusetts. Patients receiving the outpatient treatment are those who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are considered at high risk for complications from the disease.
“If administered within 10 days of onset of COVID-19 symptoms, the one-time therapy is highly effective in neutralizing the virus and preventing symptoms from worsening,” says William Agel, the chief medical officer for Cape Cod Hospital and Cape Cod Healthcare.
mAbs are “man-made proteins designed to fight off the virus that causes COVID-19,” according to the Crush COVID website. The proteins “mimic” the immune system’s ability to attack the virus.
The mobile unit was brought to Cape Cod Hospital in a partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The DPH provided early support for the program, including rapid response team nurses.
The unit opened on May 26 and is available from 1 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Patients should confirm their eligibility for the treatment by contacting their primary care provider and must meet the definition of “high risk.” High risk includes people who are 65 or older, have a body mass index over 25, are pregnant or have been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, Types 1 and 2 diabetes, chronic lung disease, sickle cell disease, hypertension or have a weakened immune system. Patients receiving the treatment must be age 12 or over, and weigh at least 88 pounds.
The coronavirus is still circulating on Cape Cod, and cases have been rising since July 1. Between July 11 and 24, there were 12 new cases in Harwich and seven in Orleans. Chatham had six new cases, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Due in part to a cluster of that is up to at least 882 cases and traced to July Fourth activities in Provincetown, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now advises that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors. According to data released by the CDC on Friday, three-quarters of the COVID-19 cases from the Provincetown cluster occurred among the vaccinated. Vaccinated people who had “breakthrough infections” showed symptoms such as a cough, headache, sore throat and fever.
On Friday the Massachusetts DPH changes its recommendations to advise that fully-vaccinated residents wear masks indoors (except in their own homes) if they or someone they live with are at high risk for complications of COVID-19. In addition, some local businesses and non-profits are again requiring masks. Other businesses are requiring that a proof of vaccination be shown.
The good news is that “current evidence supports the mAb therapy as effective against the Delta variant of the virus,” Agel says. The Delta variant is now circulating on Cape Cod.
The mAb therapy clinic is located inside a deep blue truck with blue, yellow and red letters. Also on the truck is the “Crush COVID” insignia. Patients are treated inside the truck, which is parked next to the hospital’s COVID-19 testing site. The clinic helps patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 to receive immediate treatment. The one-time therapy takes 20 to 70 minutes and is administered through intravenous infusion, delivering the medication directly into a patient’s bloodstream. Patients stay for an observation period following the treatment.
This is a “promising” therapy that has been shown to keep high-risk COVID-19 patients out of the hospital, Patricia Pronovost, a spokeswoman for Cape Cod Health, said in a press release. The therapy, if administered within 10 days of COVID-19 symptoms, neutralizes the virus and prevents symptoms from getting worse.
The mAb therapy is the first COVID-19 treatment granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for outpatient use. In April, a Phase 3 clinical trial showed that the antibody therapy reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by up to 87 percent in patients who received the drug intravenously.
Cape Cod Hospital has been able to treat over 30 patients each week.
An important aspect of the mobile clinic and the Crush COVID program is that it is “intended to provide equitable treatment for our entire community, especially those who are considered underserved populations,” Agel says. “The treatment is free, safe and easy to administer, according to the federal guideline.”
The treatment is offered regardless of immigration status or whether the patient has health insurance. For those who are insured, their insurance pays for the treatment. For the uninsured, the treatment is free. Unvaccinated patients should wait 90 days to get a coronavirus vaccine after mAb therapy.
Cape Cod Hospital is located at 27 Park St., Hyannis. To learn more about the Crush COVID program, visit www.crushcovid.com.