Nov 10, 2021, 2:21:02 PM CST Nov 12, 2021, 1:36:38 PM CST

What are monoclonal antibodies?

Learn how this COVID‑19 therapy works and who may benefit

teenager speaking with nurse who is taking notes teenager speaking with nurse who is taking notes

Though we have learned how to prevent the spread of COVID‑19 by wearing a mask, physical distancing and getting vaccinated, physicians and researchers are continuing to uncover the best ways to treat this disease.

Monoclonal antibodies are a promising treatment for early COVID‑19 infection in high-risk people and are shown to help prevent the disease from getting worse. Carla Garcia Carreno, M.D., an Infectious Disease Specialist at Children's Health℠, explains how this therapy works and who may benefit.

What are monoclonal antibodies, and how do they work?

Monoclonal antibodies are modified human antibodies that are made in a lab and can block certain diseases from affecting healthy cells. They have been used for years to treat different types of cancers and certain infections but are now being used to treat COVID‑19.

SARS‑CoV2, the virus that causes COVID‑19, uses a spike protein to bind to human cells before the virus infects the cells. Monoclonal antibodies block this spike protein so the virus can’t infect the cells and reproduce.

Right now, there are three monoclonal antibody therapies authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in certain patients 12 years and older who have COVID‑19. These therapies are:

  • Casirivimab + Imdevimab (REGEN‑COV)
  • Bamlanivimab + Etesevimab
  • Sotrovimab

Patients must go to a designated infusion center to receive monoclonal antibody treatment through an IV. Your physician can refer you to a designated infusion center if you qualify for monoclonal antibody therapy.

What are the benefits of monoclonal antibody treatments?

Studies show monoclonal antibodies can reduce the risk for hospitalization and death from COVID‑19. Right now, monoclonal antibodies seem to work well against all the COVID‑19 variants that are spreading, but that will continue to be monitored as new variants may emerge.

Who benefits from monoclonal antibody therapy for COVID‑19?

Monoclonal antibodies work best during the early stages of a COVID‑19 infection, within the first 10 days of showing symptoms. Not everyone with COVID‑19 symptoms needs this antibody therapy. It might be beneficial to people at high risk of getting severe symptoms, such as those over age 65 and people with conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease.

Monoclonal antibodies might also help people exposed to COVID‑19 who are at high risk of developing a severe infection. But they aren’t helpful for people who are already severely ill.

"Other COVID‑19 treatments, like antivirals or anti‑inflammatory medicines, are recommended for hospitalized patients who have severe disease," says Dr. Garcia Carreno.

Can children receive monoclonal antibodies?

Right now, monoclonal antibodies are authorized for use in children 12 years and older who weigh at least 88 pounds and have risk factors for severe disease. There is currently not enough evidence to recommend using monoclonal antibodies in younger children or to know which children may benefit.

What are other treatments for COVID‑19?

Currently, there are a few available treatments for people hospitalized with severe COVID‑19. These include antiviral medications (remdesivir) and anti-inflammatory medications (dexamethasone).

There are no at-home COVID‑19 treatments beyond staying hydrated, rest, and treating pain and fever with acetaminophen and/or ibuprofen. Oral antivirals (such as molnupiravir and others) are being researched but have not yet been approved by the FDA.

If your child is exposed to COVID‑19 or tests positive for COVID‑19, it is important to monitor for signs of severe disease and know when to go to the ER.

The best tool available to prevent COVID‑19 infection and severe disease is vaccination.
Dr. Garcia Carreno

Should my family still get vaccinated against COVID‑19?

While monoclonal antibodies are a good tool to treat early COVID‑19 infection in high-risk individuals, they are not a substitute for vaccination. Monoclonal antibodies don’t offer robust, long-lasting protection from COVID‑19. In addition, data on the use of monoclonal antibodies in children is limited. That’s why it’s still important to get vaccinated.

"The best tool available to prevent COVID‑19 infection and severe disease is vaccination," says Dr. Garcia Carreno. "It's important for everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated. Vaccines are the answer to end this pandemic, and they are based on rigorous research and sound science."

If you have received monoclonal antibody treatment, you can still get vaccinated. However, you should wait 90 days after you receive monoclonal antibodies to get your COVID‑19 vaccine.

More COVID-19 resources

Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID‑19 hub.

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