AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Thursday a newly-approved treatment for COVID-19 has made it to Texas.
Abbott said the drug bamlanivimab, an antibody therapy developed by Eli Lilly and Company that is the first immediate use medical treatment authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 patients, is ready to be distributed around the state.
The drug is given through an intravenous drip, and he said the Lubbock area has received its first allocation of the drug. More places around Texas will get it on a weekly basis, he said.
“The goal is to give it to people at such an early date during their infection that it keeps them out of the hospital,” Abbott said.
The company said it’s sending 80,000 doses all over the country, including parts of Texas, at no cost to the states. The company said it should have a million doses by the end of the year.
The drug is for patients “at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19,” including those aged 65 years or older and have certain preexisting medical conditions.
“It’s best use is for the early stage of COVID cases and patients who were in the early iterations of COVID-19,” Abbott explained.
Michelle Herrera and her husband both signed up for the treatment when it was still in its trial phase in August. They both received the drip IV from Baylor Scott & White just days after testing positive for COVID-19.
“Two to three days afterwards, I felt great, much, much better. The symptoms were already improving,” Herrera explained.
But her husband’s symptoms worsened over the coming weeks, leading them to believe she received the actual treatment while he was given the placebo.
She said it was a no-brainer agreeing to take part in the trial, since both of them tested positive and so did their 11-month-old and 3-year-old.
“One of us needed to get better, or if not both of us so that we could be there to take care of them,” she said.
“No family’s coming to help you, and you have COVID—no friends are coming to help you. They’ll bring food to your door, but no one wants to come in,” she said.
But, as Abbott explained, not everyone will have easy access to the treatment due to limited supplies. In the meantime, the state’s top doctors urge Texans to continue wearing masks and social distancing.
“We’ve got this monoclonal antibody. We have vaccines coming on the way. But this is a marathon, and we’re not at the finish line yet,” Dr. John Hellerstedt, commissioner of the Department of State Health Services said.
“Our vaccine, in the meantime, is this mask. And the more we wear this mask, the more we protect ourselves and the more we protect others,” Dr. John Zerwas with the University of Texas System added.
‘You just can’t let your guard down‘
Local doctors across the state agree with the statements from Hellerstedt and Zerwas.
“It should help, it’s going to be another tool in the toolbox. It’s not a home run. And, actually, it’s really not even designed for hospitalized patients, but where it can help people and help the hospitals if we’re giving it to individuals, before they get so sick, that they have to come to the hospital,” Texas Tech Physicians Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Scott Milton said Thursday.
The Amarillo-based doctor said until we have a vaccine, Texans need to fully comply with mask orders.
“You just can’t let your guard down,” Milton said. “You have to wear a mask. There should be no argument there’s about whether masks are helpful or not.
Milton pointed to transmission rates in hospitals as proof that they work.
“Our hospitals are safer than our communities, because we all wear masks in the hospital. And we don’t have the transmission amongst our employees, our doctors in the hospital. If people get quarantined, and they work at the hospital, almost always it’s because the exposure happened outside the hospital,” Milton explained.
Dr. Charles Lerner, part of the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force, said it will be in limited supply for a while.
“I would suspect that most people who have COVID will not have access,” Lerner said. “The treatments that we have available are helpful, but they are not protection. You still get the disease, and you suffer the consequences of getting the disease.”
He said masking and hand-washing are among the most important prevention measures, in addition to social distancing.
“Social distancing… because droplets tend to fall before they contact you. If you’re standing right up close to somebody within a couple of feet, then droplets are going to hit your face. It’s so common,” Lerner said.
Abbott said this drug, paired with the COVID-19 therapeutic from Regeneron that’s in the approval process, should aid in keeping hospital beds available. It’s the same type of drug taken by President Donald Trump during his infection.
But Abbott and the state’s top doctors Thursday also warned that Texans shouldn’t let their guard down yet.