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UPMC Offering New COVID-19 Treatment, But Says Vaccine Is Still Better Option

Dr. Erin McCreary (left) and Dr. Graham Snyder discuss delta's impact on Covid-19 hospitalizations, as well as new treatments.

UPMC announced Tuesday that it is offering a new preventive treatment to people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, but have yet to develop the illness themselves.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently granted emergency use authorization to post-exposure prophylaxis use of monoclonal antibodies. The FDA describes these antibodies as, “laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses.” The treatment is already used in patients after they develop COVID-19, ideally in mild and moderate cases.

People who are unvaccinated or immunocompromised are also eligible to get the post-exposure treatment. This includes children as young as 12.

“We will offer this in out-patient and in-patient settings, our senior care communities, and urgent cares,” said Dr. Erin McCreary, an infectious diseases pharmacist. “I think we’ve treated about 14 patients thus far with this therapy. We’re ready to go, and soon we’ll be able administer this all across the enterprise.”

UPMC has 40 hospitals throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York.

McCreary said while the treatment is promising, it’s no substitute for the vaccine which remains the most effective way to protect yourself and others from the virus.

Though the delta variant continues to spread rapidly in western Pennsylvania, government officials have held off on reinstating new mitigation orders, such as mask mandates. The lack of protections makes it “a particularly dangerous time,” according to Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology.

Despite the risks posed by delta, UPMC still has not mandated that staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine. A number of other medical systems have taken this step, including Allegheny Health Network. UPMC is Pennsylvania’s largest non-governmental employer, so such a mandate could have a significant impact.

But Snyder said its important to understand why someone might not want the vaccine.

“Our job is to meet people where they are. Build trust, dispel myths, make it available. And help people see from their own communities and hear from trusted people that vaccines are important,” he said.

When asked if UPMC will provide incentives like bonuses or paid time-off to encourage vaccinations, Snyder said right now the focus is on vaccine education.

Snyder said current COVID-19 hospitalizations at UPMC are 1/10 of what they were in December, when coronavirus cases peaked in Pennsylvania. Due to the vaccine and out-patient treatments, its unlikely that hospitalizations and fatalities will be as high as they were last year. However, many of the most severe COVID-19 outcomes caused by the delta variant can be avoided through vaccination.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio where she covered a range of issues, including the 2016 Iowa Caucuses.
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