Speed Reads

Moral hazard

Some states are giving 1st priority for monoclonal antibodies to unvaccinated patients

The Biden administration last week took a more active role in distributing monoclonal antibodies, a highly effective treatment for people recently infected with COVID-19 and at an elevated risk of otherwise being hospitalized, as demand for the antibody cocktails had ramped up, mostly in Southern states with lower vaccination rates. Federal distribution means those high-usage states will likely have to prioritize who gets the federally funded treatments, and some have decided to treat unvaccinated people first. 

Among those states is Tennessee, The Washington Post reports. "Demand is outstripping supply right now," said Karen Bloch, medical director of the antibody infusion clinic at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and while prioritizing the unvaccinated for her clinic's 80 infusion appointments a day "rub people the wrong way," people who haven't been immunized are much more likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID-19. 

That's the recommendation the National Institutes of Health issued earlier in September. Vaccinated individuals "are expected to have mounted an adequate immune response," so "unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated individuals who are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19" to "vaccinated individuals who are not expected to mount an adequate immune response" should be prioritized, the NIH said. 

This advice, which Tennessee has adopted, is "logical" but fraught with tough decisions about borderline cases, Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey told The Tennessean. There are also those who see prioritizing the unvaccinated as rewarding people who refuse to get immunized with the much cheaper, more effective, and fully approved vaccine, prolonging the pandemic for everyone. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is already the deadliest in U.S. history, recently surpassing the 1918-19 influenza pandemic. On CNN Tuesday, Dr. Sanjay Gupta compared these two pandemics and said 1918 America would be thrilled to have access to these vaccines.