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Lynn Hayes, team commander of the NDMS Disaster Medical Assistance Team, demonstrating the antibody infusion in Las Vegas, Nev. on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (Jannelle Calderon/The Nevada Independent)

A new temporary clinic in Southern Nevada began administering COVID-19 antibody treatment on Friday, bringing new hope to lessen the severity of the virus and reduce the strain on local hospitals. 

Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center opened a Monoclonal Antibody Clinic with the support of the National Disaster Medical System and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The clinic is expected to operate for four to six weeks but can be extended to match the community’s need.

This is the third antibody infusion clinic in the country, with others opened in El Centro, California and Tucson, Arizona within the past two weeks. 

It will treat patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are at high risk of severe illness or hospitalization. The treatment is free for patients and the federal government will cover the costs of the clinic for at least the first two weeks, although Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center is working on further funding. 

Outside of Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center's temporary Monoclonal Antibody Infusion Clinic, federally supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Las Vegas, Nev. on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (Jannelle Calderon/The Nevada Independent)

The monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins designed to block the virus’ attachment to and entry into human cells. 

“What these products do is they give you a head start,” Dr. John Redd, Chief Medical Officer of the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, said at the press conference. “You've got early COVID-19, and through getting an infusion here, you're getting a tremendous number of antibodies that start fighting the COVID-19 virus right in your bloodstream.”

The treatment, which consists of a single infusion through IV in the arm, has been shown to decrease hospitalization rates in people at higher risk for severe disease and complications from COVID-19 from 15 percent to 4 percent, officials say. 

But it should be administered within the first 10 days of diagnosis, and the earlier, the better.

“Our goal is to keep patients who qualify for this treatment out of the hospital. Sunrise, similar to almost every other hospital in the country, has limited bed capacity,” said Lynn Hayes, team commander of the NDMS Disaster Medical Assistance Team. “The staff here have been working tirelessly around the clock to take care of patients, and the more people we keep out of the hospital, the better it is for everyone.”  

Thirty-two people can be treated a day at the Sunrise Monoclonal Antibody Clinic — eight patients every three hours between 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic runs by appointments only with a physician’s referral.

Inside of Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center's Monoclonal Antibody Infusion Clinic to treat COVID-19 patients in Las Vegas, Nev. on Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. (Jannelle Calderon/The Nevada Independent)

The infusion takes about two and a half hours, between checking in, administering the infusion and being monitored for an hour afterward. Then the patient goes home to monitor symptoms. 

The treatment is intended for people with risk factors who have recently tested positive for COVID-19. This includes those 65 years of age or older and anyone 55 years of age or older who has cardiovascular disease, hypertension or pulmonary disease. 

Those with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or greater and those who have chronic conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes and immunosuppressive diseases also can qualify for the treatment.

Patients at the clinic will receive Eli Lilly’s monoclonal antibody called bamlanivimab, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use on Nov. 9. 

No other federally supported centers are planned to be opened in the foreseeable future, officials said, but the antibody treatment is available in other facilities around the country.

Even though there are concerns about the new COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom that has now been confirmed in the U.S., medical experts say the protocol for the antibody treatment has not changed and that virus mutations are to be expected.

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