Not every case of COVID-19 is the same. For some people, it can be like a cold or the flu. But for others, getting the coronavirus can result in hospitalization, long-haul symptoms or worse.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of options that may reduce the chance of severe COVID-19. Below, we cover the details and if they may be an option for you.
Who’s at risk of getting severe COVID-19?
While there’s no way to know for certain, you’re more likely to get severe COVID-19 if:
- You haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. If you’re unvaccinated, you’re five times more likely to get infected, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized and 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- You aren’t fully vaccinated. For example, if you haven’t received all initial doses or if it’s been less than two weeks since your final dose, you’re at greater risk.
- You have a weaker immune system. If you’re moderately to severely immunocompromised you may not have built up enough immunity to COVID-19 even after getting vaccinated.
- You have a chronic health condition. Obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and lung disease can increase your chance of developing severe symptoms.
- You’re middle aged or older.
Ways to reduce the chance of severe illness from COVID-19
Scientists continue to work on new treatments, medicines and methods to help reduce or prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms that could lead to hospitalization. Below, we cover three treatment options that include monoclonal antibodies, pills from Pfizer and Merck, and the antiviral drug remdesivir. We also cover prevention methods that include long-lasting monoclonal antibodies like Evusheld, and the COVID-19 vaccine.
Monoclonal antibody treatment
When used in high-risk patients, monoclonal antibody treatment can reduce the chance of mild or moderate COVID-19 illness from becoming severe.
Who can get monoclonal antibodies?
Monoclonal antibody treatment can be used for people of all ages, including infants, young children and the elderly. The treatment is reserved for people who have a high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization and death.
Monoclonal antibody treatment isn’t used to treat people who already have a severe case of COVID-19, are hospitalized, or require oxygen therapy or respiratory support. There may be additional reasons why your doctor doesn’t recommend this type of treatment for you.
How do monoclonal antibodies work?
When there’s a virus like COVID-19 in your body, your immune system makes antibodies to fight it off. But it takes time for your immune system to create enough antibodies, especially for a virus like COVID-19 that it’s never experienced before. So, you can get very sick with COVID-19 before your immune system has built up the antibodies you need to fight off the virus.
When you have monoclonal antibody treatment, your doctor gives you lab-made antibodies designed to work like the ones that your body makes. These antibodies enable your body to start fighting off the COVID-19 virus much sooner. This can help prevent mild or moderate symptoms from becoming severe.
What’s the treatment process like?
In most cases, you’ll receive the antibody drugs intravenously (through a vein in your arm). The infusion can take up to 60 minutes or longer. Monoclonal antibody treatment usually takes place in an infusion center.
When are monoclonal antibodies used?
If your doctor thinks you’re at high risk of getting severe COVID-19, they might recommend that you get monoclonal antibody treatment at one of the following times:
- Within the first 10 days of getting sick with COVID-19
- After being in close contact with someone with COVID-19 (to reduce your risk of getting COVID-19)
What if monoclonal antibody treatment isn’t available in my state?
Monoclonal antibody treatment may not be available in your state if there are COVID-19 variants in your state that are resistant to the lab-made antibodies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of states that can use monoclonal antibody treatment (PDF) based on concerning and emerging variants.
What are the side effects of monoclonal antibody treatment?
Monoclonal antibodies don’t contain any live COVID-19 virus, so they won’t give you COVID-19. But it’s possible to have side effects such as soreness and swelling where you received your infusion. Plus, you may have an allergic reaction to the antibodies.
There could also be other side effects since this medication hasn’t been used in a lot of people. So, it’s important to talk to your doctor about whether monoclonal antibodies are a good choice for your situation.
How can I get monoclonal antibody treatment?
The supply of monoclonal antibodies is extremely limited and is being used to treat those who are at highest risk of progressing from mild or moderate to severe COVID-19.
If you tested positive for COVID-19 at a HealthPartners testing location and are at risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, we will be calling you to walk through treatment options.
If your positive COVID-19 result is from a home test or another clinic, find out how to get monoclonal antibody treatment through the Minnesota Resource Allocation Platform For COVID-19 Treatment (MNRAP).
Two COVID-19 antiviral pills are now available for people who have mild to moderate COVID-19 and who are at risk of progressing to severe disease. These pills are Paxlovid from Pfizer and molnupiravir from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
What are the differences between the Merck COVID-19 pill and the Pfizer COVID-19 pill?
- Who can get them. The Paxlovid pill can be used by people 12 years of age or older. Molnupiravir is for adults only and should not be used during pregnancy.
- Effectiveness of the treatments. When given to people with COVID-19 who had a high chance of progressing to severe illness, both pills reduced the likelihood of hospitalization and death. But the Pfizer pill was more effective – 85% reduction with Paxlovid compared to 30% with molnupiravir.
- How they work. Paxlovid stops the virus from replicating in your body by blocking a specific protein. Molnupiravir creates multiple mutations of the virus within your body, making it difficult for it to continue to reproduce. Because the drugs don’t attack the spike protein, the part of the virus that changes the most with each variant, scientists hope that these drugs continue to work against future COVID-19 variants.
- Side effects The COVID-19 pills are very new, so not all the possible side effects are known. Paxlovid may not be appropriate if you have liver damage or are being treated for a HIV-1 infection. With molnupiravir there are concerns about mutations and birth defects. Talk to your doctor to find out if a COVID-19 pill is right for you.
What’s the COVID-19 pill treatment like?
You’ll need to take 3-4 pills, twice a day for 5 days.
When are the COVID-19 pills used?
Treatment begins after a confirmed COVID-19 case, preferably within five days of the first COVID-19 symptoms. So if you start to experience symptoms, do a rapid antigen test at home or make an appointment to get a PCR test – the most accurate type of COVID-19 testing – as soon as possible.
How can I get COVID-19 antiviral pills?
At this point, few of the COVID-19 pills are available. So, you’ll likely need to meet certain requirements before getting the medication. Pills are primarily going to people most at risk for severe COVID-19 based on risk factors such as being older, immunocompromised or having chronic illnesses.
If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 at a HealthPartners clinic, and are at high risk for COVID-19, you’ll be receiving a call from us to talk about your treatment options. If you’ve received a positive COVID-19 test result from a home test or another clinic, call our CareLine at 612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859.
Antiviral drug remdesivir
Remdesivir is another type of antiviral medication. In a clinical study, using remdesivir within one week of developing COVID-19 symptoms significantly reduced a person’s risk of progressing to severe illness, hospitalization or death.
Who can get the remdesivir drug?
Remdesivir was the first medication that the FDA approved to treat patients hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. But now, remdesivir can be used for non-hospitalized people with mild to moderate symptoms who are at high-risk of progressing to severe COVID-19. This medication can be used for both adult patients and pediatric patients who weigh at least 3.5 kilograms (about 8 pounds).
How does remdesivir work?
Remdesivir stops the duplication of the virus inside infected cells. It does this by inserting itself into the coronavirus RNA strand, or the genetic code for the virus.
Because remdesivir targets a specific part of the coronavirus that scientists believe won’t change much with newer variants, the medication should continue to be effective against both current and future versions of COVID-19.
When is remdesivir used?
Remdesivir tends to work best in the beginning stages of COVID-19 infection when the virus is working hard to replicate itself in your body. Ideally, outpatient remdesivir treatment should start within seven days of infection.
Remdesivir can also be used to treat adults and children who’ve been hospitalized with COVID-19. In this situation, you may receive up to 10 doses of remdesivir for your symptoms.
What’s the treatment process like?
Like monoclonal antibodies, remdesivir is delivered through intravenous infusion using a vein in your arm. You’ll need three doses so treatment with remdesivir can be a time commitment as you’d need to go to the clinic or hospital for three days in a row. And depending on how much medication you need, each infusion can take between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
What are the side effects of remdesivir?
Because remdesivir is delivered through your vein, you could have side effects similar to any infusion, such as low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, sweating and shivering.
Remdesivir can sometimes cause increased levels of liver enzymes, which can be a sign that your liver cells have been damaged or are inflamed. However, your doctor will do blood tests before giving you remdesivir to help you, and your liver, stay safe.
Remdesivir may not work in patients who take certain medications such as hydroxychloroquine sulfate or chloroquine phosphate. There may be other side effects or reasons why remdesivir isn’t right for you. Talk to your doctor about your options.
How can I get treated with remdesivir?
If you get treated at a HealthPartners hospital because you have a severe case of COVID-19, you may receive remdesivir for your symptoms.
We are currently evaluating how to offer remdesivir as an outpatient treatment for people who have mild to moderate COVID-19 and are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19.
Long-acting monoclonal antibodies
Long-acting monoclonal antibodies like Evusheld are different from the other medications on this list because they are used as a preventive medicine before you get sick or are exposed to COVID-19.
Who can get long-acting monoclonal antibodies?
Evusheld may be an option for adults, and adolescents over 12 years old who weigh at least 88 pounds and who have a higher chance of getting severe COVID-19.
Long-acting monoclonal antibody treatment doesn’t replace the need for the COVID-19 vaccine. Rather, it provides additional protection to people who still have a higher risk of getting severe COVID-19 even after vaccination or are unable to get vaccinated for a medical reason.
How do long-acting monoclonal antibodies work?
Evusheld works similarly to other monoclonal antibody treatments but the big difference is timing. Because you get the lab-made antibodies before you’re exposed to COVID-19, your body is better prepared to fight off the virus if you encounter it. The added protection from a single treatment lasts up to 6 months.
What’s the treatment process like?
Evusheld is a combination of two different monoclonal antibodies given at the same time – this includes two shots that are usually given, one after another, in each of your buttocks. The treatment may be repeated every six months, depending on your needs.
What are the side effects of long-acting monoclonal antibody treatment?
You may have the soreness, swelling and bruising that’s possible with any shot. It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to Evusheld. While uncommon, some people had cardiac events after treatment, particularly if they had risk factors of cardiac events such as a history of heart attacks.
Talk to your doctor to find out if this treatment makes sense for you. And when you do, make sure they’re aware of your allergies and health conditions.
How can I get long-acting monoclonal antibody treatment?
Our supply of Evusheld is limited and is being used to treat those who are at highest risk. If your doctor thinks you’re at high risk of getting severe COVID-19, they may recommend that you get long-acting monoclonal antibody treatment with Evusheld.
If you’re a HealthPartners patient and meet the high-risk criteria, you may be hearing from us soon. We’re reaching out to patients to schedule appointments, as our limited supply allows. If you are not a HealthPartners patient and you meet the high-risk criteria, call our CareLine at 612-339-3663 or 800-551-0859. We’ll be happy to discuss treatment options with you.
The COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots
Even as the coronavirus continues to change, one thing remains the same: the COVID-19 vaccine is still protecting people from severe illness.
Who can get the vaccine?
Adults and children at least 5 years old are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.
You can’t get vaccinated while you have COVID-19. But once you recover, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated. New variants of the coronavirus are more contagious, meaning you can get COVID-19 again, even if you’ve previously had it.
How does the vaccine work?
The vaccine helps your body develop immunity to the coronavirus so that when you encounter COVD-19, your body can fight it off.
What are the potential side effects
The COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly safe. Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are typically temporary and mild, lasting less than 72 hours.
How can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?
Not only are COVID-19 vaccines still the best way to prevent severe COVID-19, they are also the easiest option to get. You don’t need a doctor’s order. All you need to do is make your appointment.
Find out how you can reduce your chance of severe COVID-19
As the coronavirus has changed, so have our expectations. At this point, it may not be possible to completely prevent all people from getting COVID-19. However, there are ways to significantly reduce the number of people who get severe COVID-19.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself from severe COVID-19 is get the vaccine and follow-up with a booster shot or immunocompromised dose once it’s time.
However, if you or your children are at high risk of getting severe COVID-19, there are options that may provide additional protection – either preventing you from getting COVID-19 or to keep a mild case from getting worse. Talk to your doctor about how to keep you and your family safe.
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