Health and human services committee discuss treatment for COVID-19

The Health and Human Services Committee met to hear an update from the Utah Department of Health on monoclonal antibodies.  (Decker Westenburg)

On Wednesday morning, the Health and Human Services Committee met to hear an update from the Utah Department of Health on monoclonal antibodies. 

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens, such as viruses. 

Michelle Hoffman, Deputy Director of the Utah Department of Health presented during the meeting.

According to Hoffman, since last November, the Department of Health has administered the treatment to over 7,000 people that tested positive for COVID-19— avoiding about 1,000 hospitalizations. 

She said that while initially monoclonal antibodies were regarded as a scarce resource, as of last week there were 2,000 unused doses. The Department of Health has brought in three members of the Utah National Guard to try to increase the amount of doses given out. 

Hoffman announced three new sites along the Wasatch front where the treatment will be administered. The goal of these sites is to rapidly expand the amount of doses given. 

“As of last week we’re at 25%. It’s not enough just to build capacity,” Hoffman said. “We have to make sure that the people are aware of the therapy, and that this is available to them.”

Efforts to raise awareness include a media campaign that utilizes billboards and social media.

Some members of the committee voiced concerns about the number of people pulled from the National Guard.

“At the end of the day, why aren’t you pulling up 20 from the national guard? Right now we shut down Afghanistan, so where are they? We’re not using them in any other mission critical aspects,” Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi said. “If this is as critical as it’s been reported, why aren’t we responding more? How can we justify a thousand doses every single week sitting on the shelves?”

Hoffman answered that the department believes that awareness has been the main issue, and repeated their efforts to expand the number of available sites.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, who was in a meeting with Gov. Cox where the issue regarding the National Guard was discussed, provided input about availability of workforce. 

“Responding to some of our questioning, [the governor] said, ‘So you want me to pull them out of Intermountain and University of Utah’s healthcare systems to put them in another location to do this job. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul’. So that’s a factor we have to keep in mind,” Eliason said.

Jennifer Dailey-Provost, D-Salt Lake City, voiced a clarifying question about the presentation, asking whether stratifying eligibility by vaccination status— meaning, people are more likely to get the treatment if they’re not vaccinated— would be a disincentive for getting vaccinated. 

Hoffman replied, “The fact of the matter is that the risk of hospitalization and severe disease is much lower for a vaccinated individual. And so we anchor in that risk scoring system.” 

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