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Pittsburgh, Pa. -- Another way to protect patients from COVID-19 has arrived, according to UPMC.

Evusheld is the first-ever monoclonal antibody cocktail authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention of COVID-19 prior to an exposure, according to a UPMC news briefing held on Thursday.

Earlier this month, the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for Evusheld, designed to prevent COVID-19 infection in vulnerable and immunocompromised individuals who may not mount an adequate immune response to COVID-19 vaccination, such as certain transplant patients and cancer patients. 

The product is only authorized for those individuals who are not currently infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and who have not recently been exposed to an individual infected with SARS-CoV-2, according to the FDA.

Patients who receive the treatment "absolutely should still be vaccinated," said Erin McCreary, Pharm. D., director of antimicrobial stewardship innovation, infectious diseases pharmacist, UPMC. "This is an extra layer of protection," she said. 

Evushell is a combination of two antibodies given one in each arm. "Monoclonal antibodies can last for six months to up to a year in the body. Intended to be given before exposure, called 'pre-exposure anaphylaxis,'" said McCreary.

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The first patients at UPMC began receiving Evushield monoclonal antibodies via injection Thursday, Dec. 30.

Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses. Tixagevimab and cilgavimab are long-acting monoclonal antibodies that are specifically directed against the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2, designed to block the virus’ attachment and entry into human cells, according to the FDA.

The treatment is for patients 12 years or older with moderately or severely compromised immune systems, which is about two percent of the population currently. 

UPMC has received a shipment of 456 doses, about one-quarter of the total supply for Pennsylvania, McCreary said. It is a refrigerated, two-dose product, making the logistics of treatment very specific. The health system expects to receive additional limited shimpments over the next few weeks.

Allocation of this treatment, because the health system has received such limited doses, gives greater weight to patients who live in disadvantaged communities.

"First-come, first-served is not the ethical way of distribution," McCreary said. That method gives those who are disproportionately affected by disease a less likely chance to receive treatment, as they often live in highly vulnerable populations and may not be the first to seek care, said McCreary.

Now that Omicron variant is our communities, UPMC has reported an increase in patients presenting to Emergency Departments, according to Donald Yealy, M.D., chief medical officer, chair of department of emergency medicine, UPMC.

Yealy reported that more than 700 patients are admitted to UPMC throughout Pa. with the Omicron variant. "Delta is still in our communities, however," he said.

"People who are unvaccinated are seven to 10 times more likely to end up in the hospital because of COVID-19 than vaccinated people," reminded Dr. Donald Yealy.

As New Year celebrations begin to kick off, Dr. Yealy offered the following tips for celebrating:

  • Celebrate with members of the same household, whose vaccination status is known.
  • Gather in small groups of people who are vaccinated.
  • Continue to wear masks indoors, especially in larger groups of people whose vaccination status is unknown.

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