EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Some United States health officials have voiced concern that some monoclonal antibody treatments are going unused nationwide. However, local health officials say it's not a problem in El Paso.
As of early January, health officials reported that more than 550 patients in the county had received a monoclonal antibody treatment. It means the county has used more than half of its supply provided by the state.
Mike Barron was one of those patients.
"It was a mental thing also," he said. "It gave me peace of mind that I know that this works for other people. It's got to work for me. Just that in itself gave me confidence."
Barron received his treatment on January 6. By January 8, he said he felt much better, though he had not experienced serious symptoms yet.
The treatment is intended for patients before they get very sick. It aims to prevent hospitalization, but it also means patients must act fast. In El Paso, patients can only qualify if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the last ten days.
Patients in El Paso can also only qualify if they have fall into a high-risk group and are referred by an approved medical provider.
Barron, a cancer survivor, says it was not an easy process.
"I actually had to make about 10 to 15 phone calls, probably even more, because I kept getting different answers and kind of a 'no' without directly saying no."
Once he was able to get the referral, he said the process was easy. He recommends interested patients remain persistent and start trying to make calls early in their diagnosis.
The treatment works to help a patient's immune system better fight the virus. It involves an IV infusion and takes a few hours start to finish. The Chief of Emergency Medicine at University Medical Center said that could be why some communities struggle to use their supply.
"'I think there's logistics issues with any treatment, particularly infusions," said Dr. Edward Michelson, who is also Chairman of Emergency Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso. "I mean look at some of the difficulties we've had getting the vaccine pushed out as quickly as its available. A vaccination takes only a matter of about 30 seconds. Patients get observed for 15 minutes. The infusion involves starting an IV, it's a one hour treatment, so it's a lot more complicated than for instance just setting up to get a vaccine."
Dr. Michelson says El Paso has been successful in delivering the treatment. He said the county was one of the pilot sites for the treatment in the country.
"Once vaccination becomes prevalent and most people are vaccinated, the need for monoclonal antibodies will diminish," he said. "But until we have herd immunity, as long as we have new patients acquiring COVID-19, the ability to treat them with monoclonal antibodies will be very important to help keep people out of hospital."
Dr. Michelson expects to use the 1000 treatments provided by the state by the end of January at the Convention Center.
Interested patients should use this list of medical providers to seek a referral.