AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin area once again has an antibody infusion center to help keep some COVID-19 patients out of the hospital.
Texas DSHS provided resources to set up the regional infusion center at the Travis County Expo Center.
The center opened Monday and is set up to treat 28 people at a time, or around 84 a day.
It will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily and treat patients at higher risk of developing serious cases of COVID-19.
Those patients must be referred by a physician after testing positive and showing symptoms of the virus. DSHS stresses that they need to get into the treatment center as quickly as possible before symptoms become severe.
Vaccination status does not matter, and high-risk patients ages 12 and older are eligible.
“It comes at the perfect time, frankly, because obviously our ICUs and our emergency departments are full or almost full,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown.
Brown stresses that though he and the governor don’t agree on mask mandates, local and state leaders alike are working toward a common goal with antibody infusion centers opened strategically across the state.
“This infusion center is something where the local health authorities, the county, the city and the governor and TDEM, we’re all working together, because the goal is to relieve stress on our emergency rooms and our hospitals,” Brown said.
Dr. Jennifer Shuford, Chief State Epidemiologist for the Texas Department of State Health Services Dr. Jennifer Shuford says the treatment reduces the risk of a hospital stay by about 70%.
“We have heard patients say that they start feeling better almost immediately,” Shuford told KXAN.
Shuford adds that the two types of antibody therapy being used now are actually more effective than the Bamlanivimab treatment used a few months ago. The current treatments, she says, are effective against even the delta variant
DSHS stresses that patients should be proactive in involving their physicians as soon as they start showing symptoms of the virus and get a positive COVID-19 test as quickly as possible. The treatment is only offered within the first 10 days of symptoms.
“They can’t be used once somebody gets severe enough to go into the hospital,” Shuford said. “So it’s really important to access one of these treatments early before it gets to that point.”
Austin’s previous antibody infusion center was open from January 6 to May 6 of this year. Officials at the time told KXAN it had the capacity to treat 30-40 patients a day.
However, according to the city of Austin, 1,076 people were treated at the center during those three months, meaning the center only averaged about nine patients a day.
Judge Brown says this time, “I think it’s on all of us, Austin Public Heath, Travis County, CommUnityCare and every provider in the region to get the word out about this opportunity.”
The Travis County Medical Society is also pitching in, sending more than 4,500 physicians in its network the resources they need to successfully refer their patients.
Brown says the Capital Area of Texas Regional Advisory Council is working to get the word out to healthcare providers, as well.
Patients may be vaccinated or unvaccinated, however both Brown and Shuford stress that the treatment does not replace getting a vaccine.
“These monoclonal antibody treatments are not a replacement for a vaccine. They’re not as effective as as vaccines. They can’t prevent illness like vaccines can, and vaccines are durable, they can help for a long time,” Shuford explained. “But these treatments are really good for certain circumstances where people do get sick, and they are at risk of going into the hospital.”
Brown says he’s seeing people hospitalized for COVID-19 receive tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills afterward. He says he even spoke with one man who racked up a bill of around $900,000 after being hospitalized with the virus for a few months.
“The cost of not getting vaccinated, and then if you do contract COVID not getting the infusion if you’re eligible are extremely high,” Brown said.