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New Tucson clinic focuses on early treatment for high risk COVID-19 patients
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New Tucson clinic focuses on early treatment for high risk COVID-19 patients

High risk COVID-19 patients in Pima County can now get a dose of monoclonal antibodies to avoid severe illness and hospitalization at a temporary clinic set up within Tucson Medical Center.

The treatment center, the second one nationwide solely focused on giving this treatment, is intended for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 who have mild to moderate symptoms but are at high risk of eventually needing medical intervention.

The temporary center at TMC, 5301 E. Grant Road, is for patients who meet certain risk criteria including being 65 years of age or older, or having a body mass index score of 35 or higher.

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Patients may also be eligible if they are age 55 or older and have heart or lung conditions. Treatment may also be provided to patients, including those 12 years and older who weigh at least 88 pounds, who have chronic kidney disease or diabetes, or have an immunosuppressive disease.

The dose is given intravenously and takes under three hours to complete, with patient observation afterward included. The treatment can reduce the need for hospitalization by as much as 70%, and is most effective if given within 72 hours of the onset of symptoms, although it can be administered for up to 10 days after that time.

People who test positive should quickly ask their doctor about eligibility. Patients without a primary care provider can go to TMC Urgent Care, 2424 N. Wyatt Drive, Suite 140, for rapid COVID-19 testing, assessment and referral. The urgent care is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and no appointment is needed.

Doctors and providers in Pima County can directly refer patients with a positive COVID-19 test who meet the criteria. Orders can be faxed to 520-324-5071.

Earlier this week, El Centro Regional Medical Center in California became the first site in the country focused solely on administering the treatments. A third center will open soon in Las Vegas. All of the centers are federally financed and are offering treatment for free.

The clinic here is scheduled to stay open here until Jan. 17, but an extension is possible. There are 17 beds available, with the ability to treat up to 40 patients per day, and that could be expanded that if demand is high.

Patients here will receive one of two monoclonal antibody therapeutics authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, either one from Eli Lilly and Co. which uses the monoclonal antibody bamlanivimab or one from Regeneron, which combines the two monoclonal antibodies, casirivimab and imdevimab.

In November, the FDA issued emergency-use authorizations for the therapies.

Arizona initially received over 12,000 doses that were distributed throughout the state. However, with hospitals so overwhelmed by the number of people who are ill, it’s been challenging to administer the IV doses, said Dr. Theresa Cullen, director of the Pima County Health Department.

The clinic will allow the staff there to focus on the antibodies without distraction. Eventually, the goal is to have the treatments available in nursing homes and by mobile medical units.

About 25 to 30 people have been treated so far at TMC, starting with emergency-room infusions from before the clinic opened Thursday, and none of those patients have needed hospitalization, said Judy Rich, president and CEO of TMC HealthCare.

Rich said TMC is excited to be part of getting these doses to far more patients now. It comes at a time when the disease is killing one in every 1,000 Pima County residents, according to Cullen.

“Monoclonal antibody therapeutics give us an early intervention that can keep people out of the hospital and save lives,” Rich said. “Between advances in therapeutics and the vaccine, there is good news on the horizon.”

The goal for now is to get the treatment to people who qualify as soon as possible, said Dr. John Redd, chief medical officer for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response.

“It’s a way of getting ahead of your own response,” he said, explaining the infusion of antibodies helps bolster the immune system. “We want to try as hard as we possibly can to get those treatments in early.”

Contact reporter Patty Machelor at pmachelor@tucson.com or 806-7754. On Twitter: @pattymachstar


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