JACKSONVILLE (CBSMiami) – As Florida grapples with record-breaking numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Governor Ron DeSantis announced on Thursday the opening of rapid response units across the state that will administer monoclonal antibodies to patients.

Monoclonal antibodies are man-made proteins that act like human antibodies in the immune system. This type of treatment can be prescribed by health care providers to individuals 12 years of age and older who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are at high risk for severe illness and hospitalization. The antibodies help the immune system recognize and respond effectively to the virus.

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Monoclonal antibody treatments can be prescribed by health care providers to individuals 12 years of age and older who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and are at high risk for severe illness and hospitalization.

According to the treatment guidelines, they should be administered as soon as possible after diagnosis, and within 10 days of symptom onset.

One of those treatments is Regeneron which the FDA has now authorized for emergency use as post-exposure prevention for COVID-19. However, the FDA says Regeneron is not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19

“A lot of people have not even heard of it,” said the Governor at a news conference in Jacksonville. “If applied early and properly, it has the ability to reduce risk of being hospitalized by 70%,” he said. “Doing it before the symptoms get severe, is when it is most effective.”

The drugs are delivered intravenously or by injection.

The first monoclonal antibody rapid response unit will open in Jacksonville and others will follow throughout the state.

“I am proud to announce the opening of this rapid response unit to offer lifesaving monoclonal antibody therapies for Floridians,” said DeSantis. “We also look forward to setting up a long-term site at the Jacksonville Public Library and additional long-term sites across the state. These treatments have been proven successful, with clinical trials resulting in a 70% reduction in hospitalization and death for COVID patients.”

Monoclonal antibody strike teams will also be deployed directly to long-term care facilities as well.

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“Monoclonal antibody therapy helps prevent the COVID-19 virus from attaching to human cells, and is effective against variants of concern, including the Delta variant,” according to Florida Division of Emergency Management Chief Medical Officer Dr. Kenneth Scheppke.

Doctors have said they hope the new protocol will help ease the strain on hospital staff. Emergency departments in some areas are so overcrowded that doctors are sending patients home with small, portable pulse oximeters and oxygen to free up beds for sicker patients.

“This is probably the best thing that we can do to reduce the number of people that require hospitalization,” said DeSantis.

Monoclonal antibody therapies require a drug order (similar to a prescription) from a Health Care Provider (HCP) for eligible patients, according to the National Infusion Center Association.

However, DeSantis said the state’s surgeon general will issue an order to make certain sites available to people who meet certain criteria where they won’t need a doctor prescription.

DeSantis mentioned good candidates were elderly people and those with chronic kidney disease, diabetes, morbid obesity and sickle cell.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said that nationwide orders of monoclonal antibodies are twelve times higher in recent weeks than they were at the beginning of July.

The federal government has shipped more than 15,000 patient courses to 162 sites in Florida since the beginning of July.

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To find locations to receive monoclonal antibody treatments around the entire state, visit floridahealthcovid19.gov.

CBSMiami.com Team