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UPMC offers preventative COVID med

UPMC has a tiny supply of the first monoclonal antibody cocktail designed to be preventive against COVID-19 — a potential boon for immunocompromised patients.

The organization began dispensing its initial 456 doses of AstraZeneca’s Evusheld Thursday to equitably selected patients who need it most among the 80,000 in its system eligible to receive it.

Altoona is among the locations where it will be available.

The allocation of the medicine is “fabulous news” for some of those most vulnerable to COVID-19, whom vaccines can’t fully protect, said Donald Yealy, UPMC’s chief medical officer.

Evusheld is a combination of two monoclonal antibodies that is administered with intramuscular injections in each arm to provide prophylactic protection against severe COVID-19 for six months to a year for patients with compromised immune systems, said Erin McCreary, director of antimicrobial stewardship innovation and infectious disease pharmacist.

About 2 percent of the population globally have such compromised immune systems, McCreary said.

The distribution won’t be first-come, first-served, because that would be unethical, as it would give an advantage to people who happen to have better access to the health care system, McCreary said.

Instead, for as long as supply trails demand, UPMC will distribute doses throughout its entire coverage area based on successive lotteries within priority groups, with the odds weighted to account for access disadvantages and disproportionate disease impacts experienced by patients, according to McCreary.

The top-priority group — the most profoundly immunocompromised and least likely to respond to vaccination — numbers about 13,000 patients, according to McCreary.

They include lung transplant patients and those who receive medications that help their illnesses by depressing the body’s immune response, which makes vaccinations less effective, according to McCreary.

The Evusheld doses have been distributed to regional hospitals like UPMC Altoona based on the zip codes of patients who are members of the top-priority group, McCreary said.

Patients chosen will receive invitations to schedule appointments for Evusheld, which provides “passive immunity,” she said.

While the medication is welcome, current supply is enough for only 3 percent of patients in the top group — “the sickest of our sick,” McCreary said.

“That’s tough,” she said.

Distribution of Evusheld to all UPMC patients who are eligible and willing is likely to take months, as UPMC receives additional doses, officials said.

UPMC’s initial allotment is one-fourth of Pennsylvania’s entire amount, according to McCreary.

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