COVID-19 response at Arizona hospitals evolves as pandemic marches on

Dec 28, 2021, 3:00 PM
(Facebook Photo/Arizona Department of Health Services)...
(Facebook Photo/Arizona Department of Health Services)
(Facebook Photo/Arizona Department of Health Services)

PHOENIX – The response to COVID-19 at Arizona hospitals is evolving as new treatments become available and the nature of the virus changes.

A top Banner Health official on Tuesday said the state’s largest hospital system is pausing the use of monoclonal antibodies because the versions on hand aren’t effective against the fast-spreading omicron variant.

When working as designed, monoclonal antibodies can lower the rate of hospitalizations among infected individuals and improve the survival rate for those hospitalized.

“There are several manufacturers of the monoclonal antibodies we have been using. They have reduced efficacy against the omicron variant,” Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner chief clinical officer, said during a press briefing.

“A different monoclonal antibody, Sotrovimab, is efficacious, but there is no supply of Sotrovimab in Banner Health facilities at this time.”

Banner, which also operates in California, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada and Wyoming, expects to receive an “extremely limited” supply of Sotrovimab next week, Bessel said.

She said a new treatment from drug manufacturer Pfizer that has benefits similar to monoclonal antibodies, the antiviral pill called Paxlovid, will be available soon.

Paxlovid has proven to be effective against all variants in reducing hospitalizations, but it also will be rationed until supplies increase, Bessel said.

“It is only going to be prescribed to individuals of very high-risk category,” she said. “There are going to be age criteria for that, as well as individuals who have other comorbidities.”

Paxlovid can be dangerous when mixed with certain commonly used medications, so it might not be an option even if the risk criteria are met.

Bessel said vaccines plus booster shots remain the best way to prevent serious illness from COVID-19. While breakthrough cases have become more common with the emergence of the omicron variant, Bessel said nearly 90% of the COVID patients in Banner’s packed ICUs are unvaccinated.

Bessel said many health care workers are skipping holiday celebrations because there are so many patients needing care as the pandemic stretches toward its third year.

“I would ask everybody out there to think about that two years in and do your part,” she said. “Get vaccinated, get boostered, wear a mask when you’re indoors, don’t go out when you’re ill, and if you’re having symptoms, get tested.”

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COVID-19 response at Arizona hospitals evolves as pandemic marches on