Hawaii COVID-19 antibody treatments capped amid shortage

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii health care providers are receiving only half the number of monoclonal antibody treatments for COVID-19 that they requested amid a shortage of the drugs.

The federal government has capped Hawaii’s weekly allocation at 680 treatments, Brooks Baehr, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

“There is no question that we would have loved to get more,” Baehr said.

The state will have to wait and see whether it can get more supply in the coming weeks.

There has been a spike in demand for the drugs in states where where surging hospitalizations among the unvaccinated have overwhelmed health care systems.

The treatments have been shown to reduce death and hospitalization if given early. The drugs are laboratory-made versions of virus-blocking antibodies that help fight off infections.

They are only recommended for people at the highest risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, but regulators have slowly broadened who can qualify. The list of conditions now includes older age, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy and more than a half-dozen other issues.

The federal government has dispatched 30 clinicians to Hawaii to help distribute the medications.

Medical experts say the drugs are not a substitute for wearing a mask and getting vaccinated. They don’t reduce the chance that a patient could get infected and severely ill again.

Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, which has been providing care to the state’s hardest-hit population, is expected to receive only 75 treatments as part of its weekly allotment, said Jacob Schafer, director of infection control and employee health at the clinic.

Hilo Medical Center, which serves an area that has also experienced a high rate of infection, is expecting 70 treatments a week as well as a “little extra” for its emergency room and long-term care needs, said Elena Cabatu, a spokeswoman for the hospital.