Alaska is so low on its supply of some COVID-19 treatments that only those most at risk are likely to have access to them — all while an unprecedented number of Alaskans test positive during the current omicron surge.
The state reported 5,508 new cases Friday among residents and nonresidents over the previous two days. That breaks down to 2,598 cases on Wednesday and 2,910 on Thursday, once again breaking records reported earlier this week.
The number of patients hospitalized with the virus rose slightly to 87, from 80 on Wednesday. While that’s only a fraction of the record hospitalizations reported last fall, hospital administrators said this week that facilities are once again feeling strained by rising patient numbers and staffing shortages.
[Alaska shatters COVID-19 case record as omicron adds to growing strain on hospitals]
In Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, the case rate has more than doubled since last week, and municipal residents accounted for more than half of new cases reported by the state health department. The Anchorage School District was reporting 1,171 currently active cases as of Friday afternoon among more than 49,000 students and employees, though the district’s dashboard does not include all cases tracked by the state.
Alaska reported two additional virus-related deaths on Friday, involving two Anchorage residents in their 60s. Since the start of the pandemic, 955 Alaskans and 32 non-residents of the state have died from the virus.
September and October 2021 have been the deadliest months of the pandemic so far. While the number of recent cases has surpassed earlier records, officials say there are signs that the omicron surge may not be as severe as the delta wave in terms of hospitalizations or deaths.
Still, the omicron variant brings new challenges.
Monoclonal Antibody Treatments have played an important role in the early treatment of patients with COVID-19, especially those at high risk of severe disease, such as immunocompromised people. But two of the three types of monoclonal antibody treatments available are not effective against omicron, putting pressure on the supply of treatments that are.
Meanwhile, new oral antiviral therapy is also rare, although for different reasons, according to state pharmacist Coleman Cutchins. The oral drug was only recently licensed as a COVID-19 treatment and there isn’t a large quantity manufactured yet, he said.
The drug’s novelty and high demand amid rising case numbers have led to its scarcity. But that probably won’t be the case for long, Cutchins said: The oral drug is easier to scale up compared to monoclonal antibodies, which need to be refrigerated when shipped and take longer to produce.
The scarcity of some treatments has prompted Alaska’s Crisis Care Committee to recommend that therapeutic treatment providers tier people with certain medical conditions, those who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill from the COVID-19 in mind.
The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said this week that there are likely only enough monoclonal antibodies and new oral antiviral treatments for people on the first tier.
This group includes those whose immune system will not respond adequately to the vaccine or past infection due to underlying conditions, as well as people who are not current on their vaccine and who are 75 years of age or older, 65 years and older with risk factors. or pregnant, as recommended.
[Americans will be able to order free COVID-19 rapid tests starting Wednesday]
Monoclonal antibody shipments are coming in week-long cycles, with enough to provide 13 therapy sites with six doses each, a total of 78 doses, Cutchins said. Most states receive a small stipend, since the treatments are difficult to manufacture and take a while to ramp up production.
He said the situation around treatment isn’t entirely negative: Most vaccinated and boosted people probably don’t need monoclonal antibodies, and there are also two new oral drugs that work against COVID. -19, including the omicron variant, although data are limited, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“Oral medications are a real game-changer,” he said.
Antibody infusions, which require an intravenous line and a sterile environment, are far less convenient than the ease of taking medication by mouth. But oral medications currently remain in short supply, although Cutchins said he expects to see more of them soon, even within the next two weeks and even more within a month from mid-January.
“As orals become more available, we actually need monoclonals much less,” he said.
Jyll Green, operations manager at a state-contracted monoclonal processing facility in Anchorage, called the lack of supplies Thursday morning “a pretty dire situation.”
It all started on Boxing Day, when her phone’s voicemail was full at 4 p.m. They were back doing about 50 infusions a day, six days a week. As of Thursday, Green had just 24 doses available, with six already accounted for and only a slight shipment scheduled for the following week.
“It was a big ship to turn – people are used to having that safety net and something that will help them get better and faster,” Green said.
As the treatment center implemented crisis standards around prioritization, Green said she had hundreds of conversations with people to let them know she couldn’t give them the treatment.
“If we had it, we’d gladly give it to you,” Green said. “We’re not trying to be rude, we’d like to help everyone, but we still have to protect this high-risk group at this time.”
So far, the facility has yet to turn anyone in the high-risk category, Green said.
Daily News reporter Annie Berman contributed to this article.
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