PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Rhode Island Department of Health says a spike in COVID-19 cases has led to a higher demand for monoclonal antibody treatment.

On Thursday, the Health Department reported 1,379 new infections and added 308 cases to prior daily totals. Officials also disclosed three additional deaths, while hospitalizations held steady at 273.

Revised data for Tuesday shows there were 1,619 new cases, which which is the most recorded in the state in a single day, topping the previous high of 1,607 on Dec. 3, 2020.

Antibodies are proteins produced by the human body to fight viruses, like the one that causes COVID-19. Those made in a laboratory, known as monoclonal antibodies, or mAbs, act like their natural counterparts by limiting the amount of virus in a person’s body.

The treatments, which were authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), can be administered to people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms.

Studies are ongoing, but clinical trials for mAbs have shown a decline in hospitalizations and emergency room visits, along with a decrease in the amount of the virus in an infected person’s blood.

There are currently around a dozen sites in Rhode Island offering mAbs infusion treatment, but the Health Department said it’s working to add more across the state to improve access and accommodate the increased demand.

Dr. Philip Chan, consultant medical director for the Health Department, said the state is working to bring on at least four additional sites this week alone.

“Monoclonal antibodies have been the mainstay of treatment for people that aren’t sick enough yet to be in the hospital, they’ve been shown to be incredibly effective,” Chan said. “But with so many things, when cases surge they’re in short supply at the moment.”

The Health Department started providing data on mAbs treatments the week of Oct. 21. There were 141 treatments administered the week prior to that, the data shows, and that number has gradually increased since then, with 364 treatments administered last week.

As of Dec. 22, there have been more than 7,500 treatments administered in total, according to the data.

Chan says though monoclonal antibody treatments have been shown to be highly effective against preventing COVID-19 related hospitalizations and death, the treatments may not be as effective against those infected with the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“This is a little bit of a moving target,” Chan said. “This data is still emerging, still early, but we may have to adjust some of our treatment regimens.”

Chan says early data suggests some of the most commonly used antibody treatments, bamlanivimab and etesevimab made by Eli Lilly and casirivimab and imdevimab, made by Regeneron, lose most of their effectiveness when exposed in laboratory tests to the Omicron variant of coronavirus.

Chan says the state has received word the federal government may be changing some of their distribution plans as a result.

“At this point we’re still full steam ahead in terms of getting these treatments out,” Chan said.

Chan says if some of the MABS treatments can no longer be used, the state will soon have additional COVID-19 treatment options in the form of Pfizer and Merck’s oral antiviral pills to treat the virus. Both were just given emergency use authorization from the FDA.

“There’s going to be a very limited supply initially, but the good news is over time, we expect there to be adequate supplies certainly in the coming weeks. As things ramp up, there should be enough for everyone,” Chan said.

Lifespan, Rhode Island’s largest hospital system, says an adult can be referred for monoclonal antibody treatment if:

  1. Patient has a positive test result for SARS-CoV-2
  2. Patient is presenting within 10 days of symptom onset, and hospitalization due to COVID-19 is not anticipated
  3. Patient is not requiring supplemental oxygen due to COVID-19
  4. Patient is at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 (see a list of risk factors for severe illness here)
  5. Referring provider or provider’s designee has reviewed the FDA Fact Sheet for Patients/Caregivers with the patient/caregiver

Lifespan noted that pediatric mAbs treatment is available to outpatients experiencing mild to moderate symptoms if:

  • The patient has a positive test for COVID-19 and onset of symptoms within 10 days, or 
  • The patient has a confirmed exposure to COVID-19

Infusions for pediatric patients are performed at the Tomorrow Fund Clinic at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Care New England is not providing monoclonal antibody infusions at this time, as noted on its website.