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Fayetteville NC VA Adds New Therapy in the Fight Against COVID-19

Tony Smith mAb recipient
Tony Smith, a Vietnam Veteran, receives Monoclonal Antibody Infusion (mAb) at the Fayetteville VA Health Care Center September 3, 2021. Smith becomes the first Veteran to receive this FDA emergency use authorization treatment within a Fayetteville NC VA Coastal Health Care System facility. The outpatient treatment can prevent mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms from getting worse. VA providers assess Veteran eligibility before prescribing the therapy, which is administered via an intravenous (IV) infusion.

The Fayetteville NC VA Coastal Health Care System is taking the next step in the fight against COVID-19 by offering the monoclonal antibody infusions for high-risk Veterans.

Monoclonal antibody infusion is recommended for people in high-risk groups who have been exposed to COVID-19, including people over age 65 and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The infusion is given to Veterans experiencing COVID-19 symptoms to help build the immune response against serious infection from the virus. The monoclonal antibodies role is to stop the virus from replicating once a Veteran is infected with the virus, according to Fayetteville NC VA Anesthesiologist Dr. Eric Miller. The COVID-19 vaccine, the monoclonal antibody infusions, can take up to two hours from infusion to recovery under observation in the clinic.

“The research is showing that there is a nearly 70% decrease in hospitalizations and complications if we can catch COVID-19 early, Dr. Dora Franzoni, Chief, Fayetteville NC VA Department of Anesthesia said. “The sooner we administer the therapy, the better.”

Tony Smith, a Vietnam Veteran, had the distinction of being the first Veteran to receive monoclonal antibody infusion at the Fayetteville Health Care Center, which is currently the only facility within the Fayetteville NC VA system to offer it.  After testing positive, he experienced symptoms that gave him cause for concern.

“My age and some other factors made me decide to give this a try,” said Smith. “I have a neighbor who is also a nurse and she mentioned it. When my doctor told me I was a candidate, I didn’t hesitate.”

The Fayetteville NC VA team didn’t hesitate when they learned that the VA would make the treatment available for Veterans.

“We’ve been at this (COVID-19 care) since March 2020 and we have not really had an approved early outpatient treatment program,” Dr. Dora Franzoni, Chief, Department of Anesthesia said. “Now that we are able to support our Veterans with treatment, we are hoping to have some very positive outcomes for our high-risk Veterans,” she added.

The rise in COVID-19 cases and the increase in staffing requirements needed to treat hospitalized Veterans led to the reduction in elective surgery. That is when the anesthesia department stepped in to lead the establishment of the new monoclonal antibody infusion clinic.

“We accepted the lead for planning and staffing, but this is certainly a team effort across many clinical and non-clinical services,” Franzoni said. “The team got this clinic up and running in about a week and a half.”

"It’s important that our Veterans understand that the COVID vaccine, which we offer at all of our clinics, remains highly-recommended,” Dr. Franzoni said.  

“Offering this infusion treatment is another example of our focus on caring for our Veterans,” said Dan Dücker said. “We’re glad we can bring this to Veterans enrolled in our health care system, and we hope to expand availability to our coastal health care center soon.”

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