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Monoclonal antibodies needed to fight COVID-19, so why are patients turning them down?

PITTSBURGH — While a lot of focus has been on COVID-19 vaccines, UPMC says COVID-19 treatments are just as important to understand.

One of these is monoclonal antibodies, which are developed in a lab. Doctors say they’re an important tool in fighting the virus in high-risk patients, yet UPMC says pediatric patients and their families are turning down the infusion. Channel 11′s Katherine Amenta sat down with doctors to explore why.

“If they told me there was something that they could do to make me feel better, I was gonna take it,” said Samantha Stevenson.

Samantha Stevenson felt terrible earlier this spring. The Jamestown High School junior, who’s normally an active 16 year old, was sidelined by COVID-19.

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“My temp got up to 102 and it felt kinda like shards of glass were in my lungs and down my throat,” said Stevenson.

Samantha has mild asthma, and her mom Brenda didn’t want to take any chances, so they went to urgent care. That’s where doctors recommended she go to UPMC for a monoclonal antibody infusion.

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UPMC Children’s Hospital, Dr. Brian Campfield, explained how the technology works.

“They made antibodies that specifically bind to the coronavirus,” said Dr. Campfield. “It circulates throughout your blood and ... whatever virus is present there, it binds to it, and neutralizes it.”

Samantha said the shards of glass feeling in her lungs was gone the next day. But according to UPMC, not all families are as eager as Samantha to get the treatment. They say pediatric patients and their parents are declining the antibodies more than half the time.

UPMC told Amenta they believe families might be worried about trying a new treatment. But Dr. Campfield says the technology is not new and monoclonal antibodies have been used to treat children and adults for years, for conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and the virus that commonly causes pneumonia in children.

“It’s been around for more than a decade and is well known to save the lives of newborns and young children,” said Dr. Campfield.

“Had the physician’s assistant at urgent care not mentioned it,” said Brenda Stevenson, “I would have had no idea to even bring that up.”

And Dr. Campfield says that’s also key. Patients and doctors need to talk early-on, soon after the COVID-19 diagnosis. He says the earlier the treatment, the better it works.

“If it’s been 10 days to 2 weeks since you were first infected, probably most of the infection has already occurred,” said Dr. Campfield.

“If your child is going through pain and not feeling well, I would just definitely get it,” said Samantha Stevenson.

According to pharmaceutical company Regeneron, its trials showed the antibodies may reduce COVID-19 hospitalization and death by 70%. Dr. Campfield emphasized that the drug is meant for high-risk patients, saying a healthy teenager with no medical conditions may not see much of a benefit.