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A much-touted weapon in the COVID-19 fighting arsenal that was heavily promoted by Gov. Ron DeSantis and many health officials might now be out of commission because of omicron: monoclonal antibody treatments.
The FDA and ASPR released a joint statement Thursday that monoclonal antibody treatments might not be an effective treatment against the highly-contagious omicron variant of the novel coronavirus. In the face of the news, health officials now are increasingly urging residents to vaccinate as omicron spreads.
In a statement released Dec. 23, the FDA announced that “data show that it is unlikely that bamlanivimab and etesevimab administered together or REGEN-COV will retain activity against this variant.”
As a result, the statement added, the assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services decided to suspend its distribution of the antibody treatment REGEN-COV and the combination treatment of bamlanivimab and etesevimab.
According to David T. Williams, Chief Medical Officer at MedFast Urgent Care Centers, who had just started distributing the bamlanivamab and etesevimab treatment this week, MedFast has paused distributing monoclonal antibody treatment due to the announcement.
CDR Health, the organizations that runs the monoclonal treatment site in Brevard County, the county site will continue to administer the monoclonal antibody treatment, Steven J Vancore spokesperson for CDR Health told FLORIDA TODAY.
However, the treatment at the monoclonal antibody site is now available by appointment only, added Vancore.
Now, with cases increasing across the country and signs that COVID-19 infections may be surging again in Brevard County too, vaccinations might be the only tool available to help keep people out of hospitals.
The number of patients at MedFast’s locations that are scattered across Brevard County who are testing positive for COVID-19 is increasing daily, according to Dr. Williams. A week ago the positivity rate was about 5%, now the positivity rate is above 10% and increasing daily, Williams said.
“It is wildfire right now,” Williams said.
Of those who tested positive at MedFast locations, about 40% are vaccinated, “However they are not very sick because they’ve been vaccinated,” Williams added.
The amount of people MedFast tests who exhibited signs and symptoms has also increased, from about 300 to about 500 tests administered per day since Dec.16, Williams said.
The increase in cases at MedFasts locations reflect the steady increase of cases on the Space Coast since November, and earlier this month, the county became a community of “substantial transmission” according to CDC guidelines.
This increase comes amid omicrons rapid spread across the US, and Brevard County is no exception to this spread.
“It’s here, I think that’s obviously going on…It’s a tremendously quick spread, much more so than Delta,” said Davis.
During delta’s deadly summer surge, hospitals where overrun with COVID-19 cases. Both Williams and Davis urged residents to mask-up, social distance, practice hand hygiene, and— most important of all — to get vaccinated.
Davis also expressed concerns about the Space Coast’s lag in increasing its uptake of vaccinations and boosters.
“We had hopes that we would be at a higher percentage than we are. It’s a little upsetting that we’re not. I would hope that at this point there would have been enough evidence out there to convince people to get vaccinated,” Davis said.
As of Dec. 16, just 67% of eligible residents — those ages 5 and older — have received at least one dose of the novel coronavirus vaccines, according to Florida Department of Health figures.
Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the president, told MSNBC Tuesday, “When you’re dealing with any SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 virus its a problem. When you’re dealing with one that spreads so rapidly, and you are unvaccinated, the virus is going to find you.”
Davis emphasized the importance of vaccines and booster shots in protecting individuals from hospitalizations and deaths.
“The data is pretty clear that folks that have been vaccinated are handling an infection a lot better than those that are unvaccinated,” Davis said. “The biggest thing they can do is get themselves vaccinated and for those that have completed the initial series to get the booster.”
Williams added that “the best way to prevent yourself from getting seriously ill is by getting the vaccination.”
Increase in hospitalizations
Though Davis was “reluctant to predict” a potential peak, he said that some of the indicators of a surge besides an increase in daily cases, are an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations.
Currently, hospitals across Brevard County have seen a slight increase in hospitalizations, said Davis.
“You’re going to have your hospitalizations a week or two after your getting your increase in positives, as people become sick and their health declines and they end up in the hospitals” Davis said.
Health First’s four hospitals — Palm Bay Hospital, Viera Hospital, Holmes Regional Medical Center and Cape Canaveral Hospital— averaged about 10 COVID-19 inpatients over the last two months, according to Lance Skelly, Health First spokesperson.
As of today, there are 14 COVID-19 patients, five of which are in the ICU, and all are unvaccinated, according to Skelly
At Parrish Medical Center, there are five individuals who are hospitalized for COVID-19, of which, two are in the ICU, and four are unvaccinated as of Dec.22, according to Natalie Sellers, Parrish Medical Center spokesperson.
Despite this both Health First and Parrish Medical Center have not yet implemented emergency COVID-19 protocols.
“Health First continues to remain vigilant in monitoring the most recent Omicron variant and its impact on many states to our North — especially in light of the busy holiday travel season. Our command center is not operational at this time, but we are able to open and staff it immediately if and when the need arises,” said Skelly in an email to FLORIDA TODAY.
And at Parrish Medical center, “We continue to monitor the situation closely and remain ready to activate our surge response protocols should the need arise. However, at this time we are maintaining normal operations,” Sellers said in a statement to FLORIDA TODAY.
Where to get tested:
The following sites are available for either walk-in or appointment only testing.
- Department of Health Brevard, 2555 Judge Fran Jamison Way, Viera, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. This is a walk-up site with appointment only testing.
- Parrish Medical Center, 951 N. Washington Ave., Titusville, Monday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. This is a drive thru site with appointment only testing.
- Rockledge City Center, 920 Barton Blvd., Rockledge, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday. This is a drive thru site, and walk-ins are allowed.
- West Melbourne Community Park, 3000 Minton Rd., West Melbourne, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. This is a walk-up site, and walk-ins are allowed.
Additionally, the website www.211Brevard.org has a list of sites offering testing. Some of those sites require reservations, while others allow walk-ins
Where to get vaccinated:
The Florida Department of Health is offering COVID-19 vaccines at three sites:
- Melbourne clinic, 601 E. University Blvd., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Those ages 5-11 can get vaccinated only from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Friday.
- Titusville clinic, 611 N. Singleton Ave., 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Those ages 5-11 can get vaccinated only from 1:30 to 4 p.m. on Friday.
- Viera clinic, 2555 Judge Fran Jamieson Way, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays. Those ages 5-11 can get vaccinated only from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.
COVID-19 vaccines also are available at pharmacies at various local CVS, Publix, Sam’s Club, Walgreens, Walmart and Winn-Dixie stores, as well as some urgent-care centers and physician offices.
Where to get the monoclonal antibody treatment:
The monoclonal antibody treatment operation is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily under an outdoor tented area in the southwest corner of the Rockledge City Center parking lot, at 920 Barton Blvd. The site is at the intersection of Barton and Fiske boulevards. Walks in are not available, appointments can be made at https://www.patientportalfl.com/. The site will be closed Dec. 24, 25, 31, and Jan. 1.
Amira Sweilem is the data reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Sweilem at 386-406-5648 or [email protected].