Gov. Jared Polis pushes monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 patients as hospital numbers surge

By: - November 12, 2021 3:25 pm

Gov. Jared Polis with state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy (left) and Colorado resident Jill Lester (right) during a COVID-19 update on Friday, Nov. 12, 2021. (Facebook of Gov. Jared Polis)

As the current surge of COVID-19 hospitalizations accelerates, Colorado health officials are promoting monoclonal antibody treatment as a way to lower those numbers.

State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel ​​Herlihy said during a media briefing Friday that current models show that if the state can increase the use of monoclonal therapy, it could prevent 2,600 hospitalizations and 210 deaths between now and February. Additionally, expanded treatment uptake could decrease the state’s peak hospitalization number by between 150 and 300 patients. 

That projected peak of more than 2,250 COVID-19 hospitalizations could hit in mid-to-late December, Herlihy told a group of state medical advisers earlier this week. Boosters and expanded monoclonal antibody treatment are two strategies the state is using to try and reduce the peak.

The treatment involves the direct infusion of lab-created antibodies into a patient early in their illness, before hospitalization is necessary. 

“Since the FDA authorized monoclonal antibody treatment, it’s been shown to decrease hospitalization risk by about 70%. It’s one of the most effective drugs early in the course of infection to treat COVID-19,” Gov. Jared Polis told reporters on Nov. 12.

“Many Coloradans don’t even know this is an option. We’re working to expand this to more providers and break down barriers,” he said. He emphasized that monoclonal antibody treatment is not a substitute for a vaccine.

There are currently 161 enrolled providers of monoclonal antibodies across the state, including five buses. Those buses are in Mesa, El Paso, Pueblo, Montezuma and Weld counties, all current COVID-19 hotspots.

Polis said five additional buses will soon become operational, and he is planning to implement an order that would allow eligible people to seek monoclonal treatment without a doctor referral. If they test positive for COVID-19 and experience symptoms, they could receive the treatment without jumping through the current hoops. 

Colorado resident Jill Lester shared that when she and her husband, who are both vaccinated, contracted COVID-19 after a trip to Glenwood Springs, receiving monoclonal antibody treatment within the first few days of their illness helped decrease the severity of the disease.

“The infusion went very smoothly, and while it took me a couple of days to begin feeling better, I then quickly and fully recovered,” she said. 

People are eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment if they:

  • are at least 12 years old
  • tested positive for COVID-19
  • experienced mild or moderate symptoms within the last 10 days
  • are at high risk for severe disease

Colorado has the most people hospitalized for COVID-19 right now since last December, despite vaccine availability and expanded treatment options such as monoclonal antibodies.

In the last two weeks, the state has called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help in staffing hospitals, halted non-emergency cosmetic surgeries, made it easier to transfer patients between facilities and reactivated crisis standards of care for staffing. Health officials are also revising crisis standards of care for hospitals in case that action becomes necessary.

Polis has not implemented a statewide mask mandate and appears unlikely to do so, though he encourages mask wearing in crowded settings. New Mexico has a mandate currently in place.

“It’s easy to say wearing a mask will protect you, because absolutely it delays your chance of getting COVID at any point in time. It’s a little harder to figure out what a mask order does in different areas and what impact that might have,” he said. “One hypothesis is that people that are unvaccinated are the least likely to follow a mask order.”

Polis said that while masks can delay when an unvaccinated person contracts COVID-19, only vaccines reduce the risk of hospitalization and death. New Mexico’s infection numbers continue to rise.

“If (mask mandates) were working in New Mexico, we would certainly not hesitate to implement them here,” he said. “But we haven’t seen the data that supports that.”

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Sara Wilson
Sara Wilson

Sara Wilson covers state government, Colorado's congressional delegation, energy and other stories for Newsline. She formerly was a reporter for The Pueblo Chieftain, where she covered politics and government in southern Colorado. Wilson earned a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and as a student she reported on Congress and other federal beats in Washington, D.C.