SAN ANTONIO – December 2021 was a big month for the emergency approval of COVID-19 drugs deemed successful in trials.
One of them is Evusheld, a mix of monoclonal antibodies used to prevent COVID-19 for people who cannot get the vaccine.
“We found it very useful for our immuno-compromised patients, so cancer patients, people who had a kidney transplant or people who are on treatment for a rheumatologic disease that suppresses their immune system,” said UT Health San Antonio infectious disease expert Dr. Barbara Taylor.
Taylor said the Evusheld injection should not be confused with a vaccine.
“It is different from a vaccine because vaccines are training for your immune system on how to fight at disease. We can train our bodies to make antibodies and t-cells to fight the infection. Monoclonal antibodies are really for folks who don’t have a trainable immune system,” she explained.
The New York Times reported that a majority of the Evusheld stock in the U.S. is sitting unused in warehouses, hospitals and pharmacies due to confusion about the medicines and a public knowledge gap.
Taylor agrees there is a knowledge gap, but has not seen a lack of use, at least within the UT Health San Antonio system.
“For example, the Mays Cancer Center and our transplant groups have really been trying to reach out to people and get them Evusheld,” Taylor said.
She said specialists are in the know, and the challenge is making other doctors aware of it.
“Primary care providers need to know and understand these medications, but it’s so hard. Primary care providers are under lots of strain,” Taylor said. “Clearly there is more that we need to do to advertise that we have this available.”
She and other specialists are making a conscious effort to spread the word, and not just about Evusheld.
Another newer medication experts have said isn’t being taken advantage of is Paxlovid, which is a treatment for people who have mild or moderate COVID, but worry it will become severe. That could include older people or those with co-morbidities.
Paxlovid is a drug that directly targets SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID. Another better-known drug that does the same is Remdesivir, but it is only given through an IV typically for severe patients at hospitals.
Paxlovid is a prescribed pill for non-severe patients.
“Like an older patient or a patient who is at risk for severe COVID-19, who is well, who got diagnosed on a home rapid test, but is very worried about her COVID progressing. I can say, ‘Let me call in Paxlovid for you. It’s five days of treatment and it will reduce your chances of getting hospitalized,’ and that’s great,” Taylor said.
She believes there are two challenges to Paxlovid: one, that people don’t know it’s available, and two, it’s hard to know which pharmacies carry it.
“The pharmacy I use for my patients at University Health Robert B. Greene Center has Paxlovid, so I know I can prescribe it,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the government has created a website for providers to find out which pharmacies have certain medications, and she hopes more people will use it.