How is a COVID-19 antibody therapy drug shortage affecting Austin?

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — There’s a high demand and short supply of COVID-19 antibody therapy drugs across the nation, and it’s changing the way they’re distributed to medical facilities.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services says until now, sites could order their monoclonal antibody therapies from the distributor. Last week, Douglas Loveday says they were notified by the United States Department of Health and Human Services the states will now be distributing those doses.

“HHS also notified DSHS that the national supply has considerably decreased and states should expect lower amounts of therapeutics available for shipment in the coming weeks,” Loveday wrote to KXAN. “The federal government is working to acquire increased supply given the heavy demand.”

According to DSHS data, demand for the therapy surged in Texas as Gov. Greg Abbott opened up regional infusion centers across the state.

This chart shows monoclonal antibody therapy distribution in Texas
This chart from Texas DSHS shows the different monoclonal antibody therapies administered throughout the state, and their use. (Courtesy DSHS)

Just this week, Abbott announced three new centers and expanded a fourth. He also said Texans could expect more to open in the next few days.

Loveday says so far, the state doesn’t plan to close any of the centers or halt plans for new ones.

“We have supply right now to meet demand, but again, things are, you know, we’re still kind of up in the air on what that — those shipments are going to look like here in the coming weeks,” he said.

“It’ll obviously be an issue,” said Dr. Jeremy Kenter, Ally Medical Emergency Room chief medical officer. “We’re going to have to try to utilize it on those patients that are at highest risk of hospitalization or death, for sure.”

He says Ally started administering COVID-19 therapies about five months ago.

“We still can rely on some other things to help, but nothing is even close to what the monoclonal antibodies can do,” Kenter said.

He says the lower distribution will likely lead to more hospitalizations, but he’s hoping the local decrease in COVID-19 cases stays on track.

“We have started to see a little bit of a decrease in the number of cases in people having COVID-19, so hopefully our doses go down with the patient volume, as well,” he said.

Loveday says pending orders are being closed out, and DSHS is “seeking additional guidance” at the federal level as it develops a state system for how much it’ll allocate and to whom.

He says they’ll be distributing two types of therapy: Regeneron, and Bamlanivimab and Etesevimab and will try to distribute them proportionally.

“But we just don’t know what the supply will be over the long term and can’t predict what the effect will be,” Loveday cautioned. “The amount available to distribute is expected to be disproportionately small compared to the amounts needed.”

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