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[SICKENING] Vulnerable Medicare recipients often failed to get antibody drugs for COVID-19

People over age 65 at the highest risk for severe COVID-19 have often been the least likely to receive monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) -- a highly effective treatment for the disease -- both across and within US states, according to a recent study.

The researchers looked at data from more than 1.9 million Medicare beneficiaries who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 between November 2020 and August 2021, and compared rates of receiving mAbs by age, sex, race and ethnicity, region, and number of chronic conditions.

They found that, among Medicare beneficiaries who weren't hospitalized or who didn't pass away within seven days of their diagnosis, only 7.2% received mAb therapy. The likelihood of receiving mAbs was higher among those with fewer chronic conditions -- 23.2% of those with no chronic conditions received mAbs, versus 6.3%, 6.0%, and 4.7% of those with 1-3, 4-5, and 6 or more chronic conditions, respectively. The researchers also found that Blacks were less likely to receive mAbs than whites -- 6.2% versus 7.4%.

Speculating as to why mAb therapy often failed to reach the highest-risk COVID-19 patients, the researchers said it's possible that higher-risk patients may have had difficulty navigating the multiple steps needed to receive mAbs, from receiving a timely diagnosis to referral and scheduling an infusion within 10 days. As for differences among states, they suggested that mAb supply may have been low or less used by clinicians in some regions of the US.

"Monoclonal antibodies should first go to patients at the highest risk of death from COVID-19, but the opposite happened -- the healthiest patients were the most likely to get treatment,” said Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard Chan School and lead author of the study. “Unfortunately, our federal and state system for distributing these drugs has failed our most vulnerable patients."

Download the research letter here

Download patient education on monoclonal antibodies for COVID-19 here


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