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COVID-19 treatments are in short supply statewide. Here's what you need to know

Nurses wearing PPE prepare shots of Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment drug.
Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County
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Now that monoclonal antibody sites in the state are closed, following the FDA's decision to pull authorization of treatments from Regeneron and Eli Lilly, only certain hospitals and pharmacies in the state are offering COVID-19 treatments.

Treatments are only available for patients at high risk for developing severe COVID-19. Select pharmacies and health facilities have supplies.

COVID-19 treatments are in short supply now that the FDA no longer allows the use of monoclonal antibodies made by Regeneron and Eli Lilly. Data suggests those drugs aren’t effective against the omicron variant.

Here’s a breakdown of what is available to patients in the state and why most people shouldn't expect to access the medicine.

MAP: Find out where you can find COVID-19 treatments in your area

Sotrovimab

Hospitals like Sarasota Memorial and Tampa General are offering the only monoclonal antibody treatment that does appear to work against omicron called sotrovimab, produced by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. But supplies are very limited.

The federal government shipped the state 3,216 doses of the treatment for the week beginning Jan. 24.

Dr. Peggy Duggan, Tampa General's Chief Medical Officer, said staff members are prioritizing people with compromised immune systems, like cancer and transplant patients.

“And then, of course, as supply increases we may liberalize that use, but I do think we're getting the drug that we have to the people who need it most and that's been really important,” she said.

Sarasota Memorial adds that pregnant people are also considered priorities for sotrovimab.

“We recognize that many patients in our community are at risk for COVID-19 and would benefit from this therapy, however, due to high demand and limited supply, we cannot make direct patient appointments at this time,” said SMH spokesperson Kim Savage in an email. “Instead, we are working directly with physicians on our medical staff to prioritize those most at risk first.”

The health system says patients who believe they could be eligible should contact their local physician to initiate the screening process. Patients can contact Sarasota Memorial’s monoclonal antibody hotline at 941-262-0135 for more information.

Patients can find referral forms for Tampa General on the hospital’s monoclonal antibody webpage or call 813-844-4715.

Other hospitals that may have supplies of monoclonal antibody treatments can be found on the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 treatment locator.

Remdesivir

Another effective treatment providers say is more widely available but still limited to high-risk patients with mild-to-moderate illness is remdesivir. The FDA recently expanded its authorization of the drug, also called Veklury, to allow for outpatient use in addition to inpatient.

But Duggan said it involves patients coming to the hospital three days in a row for intravenous infusions.

“It’s just a lot harder for patients to make that work and for us to have the bandwidth to do that,” she said. “That said, we’ve been really successful with that.”

Data suggests the drug helps keep patients out of the hospital when administered soon after an infection diagnosis.

Contact your local physician or hospital to see if you are eligible for remdesivir.

Antiviral Pills

The FDA has approved two antiviral pills to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19: Paxlovid, produced by Pfizer, and Molnupiravir, produced by Merck.

Select pharmacies around the state have supplies of these drugs. Only four are located in the greater Tampa Bay region, according to the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 treatment locator.

As of Jan. 27, those stores include a Walmart in Hillsborough County, a Walgreens in Pasco County, a Walgreens in Polk County and a Publix in Highlands County.

Patients need to have prescriptions from their doctors to obtain the drugs.

“COVID-19 oral antiviral inventory is limited and store locations are prioritized based on rapid and drive-thru testing capabilities, high levels of COVID-19 within the community, vaccination rates and accessibility for high risk, socially vulnerable populations,” said Walgreens spokesperson Alexandra Brown in an email.

“Walgreens has shared with primary care providers participating store locations, as well as a provider-only toll-free number and HHS website to locate inventory in their area.”

Brown adds patients are encouraged to use drive-thru and same-day prescription delivery services to reduce the risk of infecting staff and other customers.

Paxlovid, which consists of two medicines (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir), is authorized for patients ages 12 and older who have mild to moderate COVID-19 but are at high risk for severe illness.

Molnupiravir is for patients 18 and older in similar situations, but who are also unable to access or use other COVID treatment options. The FDA does not recommend pregnant people use it.

Both treatments need to be administered within five days of developing symptoms.

Evusheld

Patients who may not respond well to COVID-19 vaccines because of health issues can access a drug to give them added protection from the virus. Some hospitals in the state are offering a therapy known as Evusheld, from the drugmaker AstraZeneca.

Evusheld is a monoclonal antibody, but unlike the drugs some COVID patients have benefited from in recent months, this one is not meant to treat active infection. Instead, the FDA has authorized Evusheld for patients who haven't been exposed to the coronavirus.

The injections are recommended for those who either may not respond well to vaccines because of a compromised immune system, or can't get the shots because of past allergic reactions to COVID-19 vaccines or their components.

Dr. Duggan with Tampa General Hospital said they have a good supply and are primarily coordinating treatments through the hospital’s oncology clinic. She encourages eligible patients to take advantage.

“It's [Evusheld] got a long half-life so you are protected for about 120 days and it's incredibly effective against omicron, particularly, so it's really important,” she said.

Duggan stressed Evusheld is not a substitute for vaccines for people who just don't want them. Patients need prescriptions from health providers to access the medicine.

Sarasota Memorial Health System is also offering Evusheld to high-risk inpatients and outpatients, including transplant patients, certain cancer patients and people on certain immuno-suppressing medications, according to spokesperson Kim Savage.

Interested patients can contact the hospital’s Evusheld hotline at 941-917-6870 for more information.

You can find more health facilities in the state offering Evusheld on the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 treatment locator.

Worried you don't qualify?

Given the limited supply of these COVID-19 treatments, it is likely that most people who test positive in Florida will not be able to access them. But that doesn't mean everyone else should panic.

The omicron variant, the dominant strain in Florida, appears to cause less severe illness in most people.

Dr. Duggan said that is especially true for people who are vaccinated and have received booster shots.

"If you're someone who has a fully-functioning immune system, you're vaccinated and have a booster, you're very protected from omicron, and honestly our sick patients in the hospital who are admitted for omicron, because of omicron, are all patients who are unvaccinated," she said.

Duggan is urging all those who have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to do so.

For those who have already tested positive, she said the most important thing they can do is talk with a health care provider to see what their options are for treatment and monitoring symptoms.

RESOURCE: Testing locations and how to register for vaccines and booster shots across Tampa Bay

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.