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"It shouldn't be this hard": Colorado COVID patients struggle to get monoclonal antibody therapy

CDPHE trying to increase access
Virus Outbreak Mississippi
Posted at 5:32 PM, Oct 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-25 20:58:24-04

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Monoclonal antibody therapy is being called a "miracle treatment" for COVID-19 patients, but only if they can get it—and in Colorado that is a big if.

Research shows the treatment works to keep 80% of those with COVID-19 out of the hospital. But in Colorado, some patients are forced to fight for the treatment that could save their lives.

Audrey Goodman, an Adams County resident, never thought that she would be fighting COVID-19 and fighting for her life.

She is a registered nurse in Colorado and fully vaccinated. She had a breakthrough case two weeks ago, and to say it hit hard is an understatement.

"I just progressively got worse. I was having a hard time breathing," said Goodman. "I thought [I was going to die]. It was probably about day 3, I literally thought I was going to die."

She asked her doctor about a treatment she had read about called monoclonal antibodies. It's effective. It is free. But in Colorado, it is not easy to get.

"The doctor at Kaiser was super helpful," said Goodman. "But she literally said, 'I've never made a referral for this. So bear with me. I have to figure it out.'"

Dr. Adit Ginde, an emergency physician at UCHealth, said some systems and providers have a knowledge gap.

UCHealth has provided nearly half of the monoclonal antibodies infusions in the state in the last month, and has started proactively reaching out to high-risk patients who would most benefit from the treatment.

Still, Gande said statewide, the life-saving treatment is not getting to enough Coloradans.

"Right now, it relies on health systems and providers and orders and referrals. Sometimes that creates enough barriers that most people that need treatment are not getting it," he said.

He believes there needs to be a state-managed solution to complement health systems to help administer the treatment more broadly.

"There's certainly interest at the state level. We just need to be able to move the needle forward, so that we can care for patients in our community," he said.

However, much like the vaccine, the treatment has been politicized. Doctors and public health officials have emphasized that the treatment is not a replacement for the vaccines.

But some states have worked to streamline the process to get it. Florida and Texas have set up walk-in regional infusion centers for the public to get treatment.

"This is helping relieve some of the pressure because I know they’re doing a lot in these health systems. So, this is supplementing that and we’ll expand as needed," said Ron Desantis during a news conference in August.

Contact Denver7 reached out to the state of Colorado, asking why the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has not started open infusion centers.

In a statement, a spokesperson wrote the agency was looking at options to increase access to the treatment. But for some people, that effort is coming too late.

"This is a time-sensitive treatment," said Ginde. "Ideally, this is given in the first few days of illness to have the best effect. The problem is that many people, while waiting for treatment, it can take several days. We are seeing them get hospitalized because it has taken too long for them to get treatment. By the time you're in the hospital, it's actually too late to get the treatment."

For Goodman, it took days to finally get an appointment at an infusion center, but it only took hours to feel the results.

"I literally felt like something had reached inside my body and ripped whatever was this virus that was holding on to my lungs out of my body," she said. "And every day I have felt better. I felt like I turned the corner. It was literally like a miracle drug for me."

Still recovering from the illness, she wants everyone to know about what helped her pull through, and everyone to be able to access it through a system that actually works.

"You don't feel well, and then you kind of have to fight for it," said Goodman. "It doesn't seem like a good system for something that could save so many lives. "

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