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Colorado to receive doses of antibody treatment that works against omicron variant

Other antibody drugs used to fight infections may not work against the new strain.

DENVER — There's concern some treatments for COVID-19 will not be as effective against the omicron variant, and the one that appears to work is in short supply in the United States.

Health officials say monoclonal antibody treatments can block the virus from entering the cells in your body and limit the amount of the virus within your body. Infusions can lead to milder symptoms and may decrease the likelihood of hospitalization.

It's a treatment Colorado Governor Jared Polis continues to encourage more people to get.

On Dec. 16, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said its antibody treatment has "diminished potency" versus omicron, but is active against the predominant delta strain.

Drugs from Eli Lilly, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, are effective against the delta variant and the pharmaceutical company is working to understand neutralization activity of its therapies on the omicron variant, according to a statement on Dec. 3.

While the delta variant is the most common strain of COVID-19 right now, health officials believe the omicron variant will likely be dominant in the United States within a few weeks. 

"I don't think that is something individuals need to be concerned about and especially not yet," said Dr. Michelle Barron, an infectious disease expert at UCHealth. 

Dr. Barron said drug makers have faced this challenge before during the pandemic.

"Bamlanivimab actually turned out to not be effective against delta, but they found a combination of it with another drug actually worked fine," she said.

There is a treatment that appears to be working against the omicron variant. British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline reported earlier this month that its monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab worked against all variants of concern.

In late November, the U.S. federal government had paused shipment of sotrovimab  to help ensure a more balanced portfolio of monoclonal antibody products and to allow more time to assess data regarding the effectiveness of sotrovimab against the omicron variant.

Supply of the drug is extremely limited. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is preparing to ship about 55,000 doses to states across the country, and the department expects to grow that number soon.

"I think the reason some of the supply is limited right now is because the U.S. government has been stockpiling it," Dr. Barron said. "I think that is being very conscious about the fact that we may need it."

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is adapting and expects "next generation" monoclonal antibodies that work against the omicron and delta variants to be available in the first quarter of 2022. 

Leading into the new year, doctors are also pushing another effective tool.

"The booster is still by far more effective than you getting sick and requiring antibody therapy," said Dr. Barron.

Colorado anticipates receiving just under 1,000 doses of sotrovimab in the federal government's latest shipment. States will see the drug arrive as early as Tuesday. 

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