by Scott McClallen
As Michigan enters its sixth straight week of rising COVID-19 cases, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer expanded the use of monoclonal antibody therapy to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths for high-risk patients.
“We are using every mitigation strategy, every medication, and every treatment option to fight the virus here in Michigan,” Whitmer said in a statement. “These antibody treatments could keep you out of the hospital and save your life, and my administration and I will continue working with the federal government to make sure we are using all the tools in our toolbox to keep you and your family safe and get back to normal sooner.”
Michigan’s case positivity rate is at 18%, compared to late February’s 3.9% case positivity rate.
Whitmer brushed off a question about Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Elizabeth Hertel vacationing in Alabama while Michigan saw nationwide COVID-19 high numbers as a “partisan hit job.”
Whitmer claimed there have “never been travel restrictions in Michigan,” which isn’t accurate. Early in the pandemic, Whitmer threatened criminal charges for Michiganders who wanted to visit their second home.
When asked why the state is the worst in the country despite the strictest restrictions in the Midwest, Whitmer cited variants, people breaking COVID-19 rules, and her strict rules that initially kept Michiganders from contracting COVID-19 and forming antibodies.
Whitmer touted the 5.4 million vaccines injected as progress against the COVID-19 pandemic, along with therapies to reduce deaths such as Monoclonal antibodies (mAb). These molecules can restore, enhance or mimic the immune system’s attack on cells by preventing it from bonding with cells in the body.
“When administered to non-hospitalized patients within 10 days of symptom onset, monoclonal antibodies may reduce symptoms and the risk of hospitalizations and emergency room visits associated with the virus,” Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said in a statement. “Michiganders who contract COVID-19 should ask their health care providers about receiving this treatment and I urge providers to assess if their patients qualify. We have seen successful use of this therapy in long-term care facilities and even in home use by EMS providers.”
Whitmer and Khaldun said they’re using every “tool in the toolbox” as infections in Michigan are at a national high, but stopped short of locking the state down as was suggested earlier this week by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
Khaldun also explained the federal guidance to pause the Johnson and Johnson vaccine injection after reports of six blood clots out of the nearly seven million injections. That’s a one-in-one-million chance, Khaldun explained.
To date, preliminary data suggests more than 6,600 Michiganders have received mAb treatment, with 65% reporting feeling better within two days of treatment and less than 5% of them requiring hospitalization following treatment.
“We have been treating patients with monoclonal antibodies over the last five months and we can attest to its success,” Adnan Munkarah, M.D., executive vice president and chief clinical officer of Henry Ford Health System, said in a statement. “This treatment has the potential not only to help patients who are suffering from the severe effects of COVID-19, but also to ease the burden on our hospitals and caregivers. At the same time, we must stay vigilant by getting vaccinated and following the safety measures we have in place.”
In seven long-term care facility outbreaks, 120 vulnerable patients with high mortality rates were treated with mAb. Only three of those patients needed to be hospitalized, and only one death was reported, Whitmer’s office said.
The therapy is administered through an intravenous infusion and is designed for people who have tested positive for COVID-19, and have mild to moderate symptoms. It is not intended for hospitalized patients. These treatments are allowed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under an Emergency Use Authorization. The FDA says mAb therapy is effective against the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant, the predominant form of COVID-19 currently seen in Michigan.
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Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.