ST. LOUIS – As the omicron variant of COVID is spreading quickly across the area one tool used to help keep people out of the hospital is no longer an option.
The monoclonal antibody therapies that were helping keep some people out of the hospital are not working against the omicron variant.
Dr. Clay Dunagan, BJC’s senior vice president and chief clinical officer, says there is one antibody that is available but it is in short supply. He says doctors can only treat a small fraction of patients with it and it will be held for patients that are very high risk.
Dunagan explained during this afternoon’s St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force briefing that there are some anti-viral medications available but they have limitations.
Drugmakers Regeneron and Eli Lilly have been the go-to treatments for early COVID-19, thanks to their ability to head off severe disease and keep patients out of the hospital.
But both drugmakers recently warned that laboratory testing suggests their therapies will be much less potent against omicron, which contains dozens of mutations that make it harder for antibodies to attack the virus. And while the companies say they can quickly develop new omicron-targeting antibodies, those aren’t expected to launch for at least several months.
A third antibody from British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline appears to be the best positioned to fight omicron. But Glaxo’s drug is not widely available in the U.S., accounting for a small portion of the millions of doses purchased and distributed by the federal government. U.S. health officials are now rationing scarce drug supplies to states.
The president also announced that the U.S. is doubling its order for an anti-viral pill produced by Pfizer that was recently authorized by the FDA to prevent serious illness and death from COVID-19. That means 20 million doses, with the first 10 million pills to be delivered by June.
A senior administration official said that combined with other therapies, such as monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma, 4 million treatments that are effective against the omicron variant would be available by the end of January.
The delta variant still accounts for more than 95% of estimated U.S. cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But agency leaders say omicron is spreading faster than any past variant and will become the dominant strain nationwide within weeks.
This story contains information from the Associated Press