ST. LOUIS – The strain on St. Louis area hospitals from COVID-19 patients is spiking again.
The number of hospitalizations is now topping 600 for the first time in more than a week, according to the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force.
The state of Missouri is breaking out a new weapon to keep more COVID patients out of hospitals: monoclonal antibody infusions.
The effects can be immediate, according to doctors, with COVID-19 patients feeling much better walking out of a clinic than they do walking into one.
“You get the effect right away,” said Dr. Karthik Iyer, chief medical officer of Mercy Hospital Jefferson in Festus, which is hosting one of the new infusion centers.
“With vaccines, it still takes time to develop that immunity, the level of antibodies that can ward off the infection but with the monoclonal antibody infusion, the effect starts right away,” Iyer said.
Patients can get their infusions sitting in an easy chair. Then leave. The entire process takes 2-3 hours, he said.
Patients will receive the Regen-Cov antibody cocktail which hospitals have been offering the experimental treatment on a limited basis. The FDA has now approved it for emergency use at six new state-funded clinics including in Missouri.
There are two in the St. Louis region: Mercy Hospital Jefferson in Festus and Affinia Health Care in the city of St. Louis.
There’s only enough time and space for up to 20 infusions a day at most of the locations. That may not sound like a lot but if someone does 20 every day for 30 days at six centers across Missouri, it will make make a difference.
“It’ll be a big game-changer,” Dr. Iyer said. “Hospital beds (are now) occupied with majority COVID patients. ICUs are primarily being used for this. ICUs are overflowing sometimes. (Antibody treatment) reduces the strain on any health care system.”
Jefferson County alone has nearly 500 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past week.
The state of Missouri committed $15 million dollars to operate six infusion centers for 30 days in Jackson, Pettis, Butler, Scott, and Jefferson Counties, plus the city of St. Louis.
Patients must get an infusion within 10 days of showing symptoms for it to be effective, Dr. Iyer said.
The treatment is reserved for those with at least one of the following risk factors for hospitalization:
- 65 years or older
- body mass index (BMI) greater than 25
- chronic kidney disease
- immunosuppressive disease
- receiving immunosuppressive treatment
- cardiovascular disease
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- chronic lung disease including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, interstitial lung disease and cystic fibrosis
- sickle cell disease
- neurodevelopmental disorders, such as cerebral palsy
- medical-related technological dependence, such as tracheostomy and gastrostomy
Missouri has set up a phone number for referrals to a regional infusion center. That number is 660-829-6647. Referrals for an antibody infusion appointment at Affinia can be made by calling 314-833-2777.