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State struggles with shortage of only monoclonal antibody that works against COVID's Omicron variant

The FDA revoked emergency authorization for two available treatments Monday because of studies showing their lowered effectiveness.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Testifying to lawmakers last week, Tennessee's top doctor had bad news: the state is struggling to supply hospitals with the only monoclonal antibody treatment that works against the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

"The state is ordering everything available to us. There's just very little to be had," Dr. Lisa Piercey said, adding Tennessee receives just 600 to 800 doses per week of Sotrovimab. "That does not go very far." 

Scientists make monoclonal antibodies in a lab. After a patient tests positive for COVID-19, doctors can give them the antibodies through an IV or in a shot. 

"They prevent the evolution of the illness from milder to more serious illness that would require hospitalization," Vanderbilt University Medical Center Infectious Disease Doctor William Schaffner said. 

The antibodies worked well, he said, until Omicron started to spread. It is resistant to two of the most available brands of antibodies, Piercey said. 

"All you're doing by giving a patient one of those — unless you know for a fact it's not omicron — is essentially wasting time where they could be having a more effective treatment," she said. 

Effective treatments include the one antibody that still works and newly-developed antiviral pills, but both remain in extremely short supply. 

"We have available – not yet in abundant supply – this new monoclonal antibody as well as these new antiviral drugs," he said.

Schaffner recommended avoiding the virus to begin with by getting vaccinated.

"As Benjamin Franklin said, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.' Let's try to prevent the illness on the front end so we don't have to use the treatment," he said. 

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