It may be hard to pronounce, but for some St. Luke’s physicians, positive results have been easy to see among COVID-19 patients.
Bamlanivimab – “bam” for those who administer it – is one of the few drugs cleared for FDA emergency use access to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in high-risk patients.
St. Luke’s began using the treatment, given as an infusion over two to three hours, on Nov. 20. The possibility of hospitalization is factored in, along with age, weight and other risk factors. In the first five weeks, it was given to 159 patients, averaging 68 years of age.
According to St. Luke’s data, approximately 80 hospitalizations were prevented, with only 13 of the 159 experiencing worsening COVID-19 symptoms. It is by no means a miracle drug – an early clinical trial showed only slight benefits – but a study published in late January showed its usage reduced the risk of contracting COVID-19 in nursing home patients by 80 percent.
St. Luke’s clinical data – unblinded and non-randomized – indicates it is reducing hospitalization in high-risk individuals. Thus far, it has been given to patients with an average hospitalization risk of 22 percent, with only 6 percent subsequently hospitalized.
One success story came out of McCall in mid-December, following the area’s first serious spike in cases two weeks after Thanksgiving.
An outbreak occurred in a vulnerable population at the McCall Rehabilitation and Care Center. Dr. Jennifer Lewis, the medical director, identified nine patients that fit the criteria for bamlanivimab.
“We were all grateful that this infusion was available in McCall to help prevent severe illnesses and hospitalizations in our skilled nursing facility residents,” she said.
Time was of the essence, as the treatment is optimally given within 10 days of a positive test, the sooner the better. Denise Jantzer, the lead nurse for infusion services, stepped up, coming in on her off day and staying late to ensure safety, with chemotherapy patients also being treated that day.
None of the patients treated had to be hospitalized, so that added potential stress was avoided.
“It really was quite rewarding,” Jantzer said. “The outcome was all you could hope for, and everyone here pitched in to get the job done, get it under control.”
Jantzer noted that the St. Luke’s pharmacy team “has been amazing,” quickly doing calculations to determine if a patient would fit the criteria to receive bamlanivimab and getting it to them if so.
Though the criteria limit the drug’s availability, use has grown across the system. An infusion center for COVID-19 patients in Boise went live Jan. 8; bamlanivimab had only been used in home care settings in the area previously.
“At first, I was a little skeptical, it being so new and not needing to pre-medicate like with other treatments, but you started seeing people turn around,” Jantzer said. “Then, with the nursing home, it proved to us, like, ‘Wow.’“Everyone is gung-ho about getting it to people who need it.”
Dave Southorn works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.