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Monoclonal Antibodies: A Treatment Option for COVID-19

What Are Monoclonal Antibodies?

Monoclonal antibodies are medicines that act like your own antibodies and can help to stop your symptoms from getting worse and may prevent hospitalization due to worsening symptoms of COVID-19. This is NOT a replacement for the vaccine but rather is given to treat your current COVID-19 infection.

Patients must have a doctor referral and a high-risk medical condition to receive this treatment at this time. Due to high volumes, it may take 48 hours or longer to schedule a monoclonal antibody appointment. Ask your doctor if you qualify for Paxlovid™.

To learn more about Monoclonal Antibody Treatment for COVID-19, and to see if you qualify, please call 866-804-5251.

Paxlovid™

Paxlovid™, an oral antiviral medication, also is available for treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19, and available at retail pharmacies with a prescription.

Paxlovid can help patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 avoid severe outcomes, including hospitalization or death. Patients should receive either Paxlovid or monoclonal antibody, not both.

To qualify for Paxlovid, you must have tested positive for COVID-19, and treatment must begin within five days of the start of your symptoms. Other qualifications for Paxlovid include:

  • You must be 12 years old or older.
  • Weigh at least 88 pounds.
  • Have mild to moderate COVID-19.
  • Be at high risk for severe COVID-19.

You can receive Paxlovid from a pharmacy if you have a prescription.

How are antibodies made?

Antibodies are proteins made by your body's immune system that fight off infections, including infections caused by viruses. Your body can remember how to make antibodies if you are exposed to the same germ again.


How Do Monoclonal Antibodies Treat COVID-19?

How does monoclonal antibody treatment work?

After entering your body, monoclonal antibodies look for and attach to the spike protein that sticks out of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

When monoclonal antibodies attach to the spike protein, they can block the virus's ability to enter cells — and slow down the infection.

In 2020, the FDA authorized several different monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19. UPMC has one monoclonal antibody infusion treatment product, bebtelovimab.

How effective are monoclonal antibodies?

According to a study from the New England Journal of Medicine, early clinical data show that monoclonal antibodies can successfully reduce COVID-19 hospitalization rates. Clinical trials have shown that these treatments can decrease hospitalizations and emergency department visits. They can also reduce the amount of virus found in an infected person's blood.

An analysis of UPMC patients who received monoclonal antibodies found the treatment has significantly cut the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Read more about this study.

Health officials continue to monitor the safety and effectiveness of the treatments, and clinical trials are ongoing.

It isn't yet known if monoclonal antibodies protect against future COVID-19 infections. 

Monoclonal Antibody Treatment at UPMC

Who is eligible for monoclonal antibody treatment?

Eligibility criteria are currently prioritized for the following patients:

  • Test positive for COVID-19 (PCR or antigen test), AND:
  • Have had mild-moderate symptoms for 7 days or less (must still be symptomatic), AND:
  • Not have a new or increased O2 requirement, AND:
  • One of the following medical conditions:
    • Age ≥ 65 years
    • Immunocompromised
    • Pregnant
    • Medical-related technology dependence or dependent on a caregiver for activities of daily living
    • Sickle cell anemia
    • Contraindication to Paxlovid (eGFR < 30 mL/min OR primary tier drug interaction [see treatment guideline appendix for primary tier drug list]

Patients in the emergency department, observation status, or inpatient must have a qualifying medical condition AND be unable to receive Paxlovid in order to receive monoclonal antibody therapy. Outpatients with qualifying medical conditions may chose either Paxlovid or monoclonal antibodies.

Note: Monoclonal antibody treatment needs to be given within 7 days of the start of symptoms. 

Para información en español acerca del tratamiento con anticuerpos monoclonales en UPMC, haga clic aquí

How to find out if you qualify and to receive monoclonal antibodies treatment

Potential patients can find out if they qualify by speaking to their doctor. Patients and providers can also call 866-804-5251 for help.


Bill F, Monoclonal Antibody Patient Testimony

"I got my positive COVID test on Palm Sunday and I began to feel the respiratory issue the following Thursday. … It turned out I was eligible [for monoclonal antibodies] and I went for the infusion on Good Friday. For me, the infusion seemed to have a rapid and positive effect in helping to arrest the progress of the virus and speeding the path to recovery." - Bill F.


The treatment and results of these patients may not be representative of all similar cases.


What to Expect During Monoclonal Antibody Treatment

Monoclonal antibodies is a treatment given in an outpatient clinic through an IV push.

Research studies show that it should be effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms from becoming severe and that patients who receive the treatment are less likely to get sicker leading to an Emergency Department visit or needing to be admitted to the hospital.

To learn more about what to expect when receiving a COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment and who is eligible to receive this treatment, watch the video below featuring Dr. J. Ryan Bariola, Medical Director of UPMC Community Hospital Antimicrobial Stewardship Efforts, Infectious Diseases.


For a closer look at what treatment looks like for patients, check out Kim's story

Monoclonal Antibody Treatment: Frequently Asked Questions

What are the side effects of monoclonal antibodies?

The bebtelovimab IV injection can cause brief pain, bleeding, skin bruising, soreness, swelling, and possible infection at the location where it was given.

Monoclonal antibodies may cause other side effects, but in general, they are rare. Extremely rarely, patients may experience an allergic reaction. Talk to your doctor if you experience any side effect that bothers you or does not go away quickly.

Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have had antibody treatment?

Monoclonal antibody provides treatment for COVID-19 disease or prevents development of disease after an exposure. If you receive monoclonal antibody, it remains important to be vaccinated to prevent serious illness in the future.

If you received monoclonal antibodies for treatment of COVID-19, you can receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you are clinically well (recovered) and considered no longer contagious. Contact your doctor to learn more about when you are considered no longer contagious and able to come to vaccine clinic.

Can you receive monoclonal antibodies treatment if you already received the COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. If you get COVID-19 and meet criteria for monoclonal antibody treatment, you can receive the treatment regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

What is the cost of monoclonal antibody treatment?

Check with your insurance provider for information about the cost of monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19. There is a charge for the drug, and for the office visit and for the administration of the drug. Insurance providers may cover this cost, but it is best to confirm prior to treatment.

Where does monoclonal antibody treatment at UPMC take place?

If you test positive for COVID-19, and have symptoms for 7 (seven) days or less, AND meet the guidelines to receive monoclonal antibodies you will be directed to visit one of our clinics where providers can administer available monoclonal antibody treatments in a safe environment.

Is this treatment safe?

In 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) to allow monoclonal antibodies as a treatment option for COVID-19.

Information for UPMC and Non-UPMC Health Care Providers

  • Ordering Monoclonal Antibody for Patients
  • Criteria for patient treatment
  • Limitation of use
  • Treatment fact sheets
Treatment Information for Medical Providers

Information about Monoclonal Antibody Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for Immunocompromised Patients

Evusheld is a potent new COVID-19 protective measure (monoclonal antibody) designed to prevent COVID-19 infection in vulnerable and immunocompromised individuals.

Learn more about this medication.