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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Alaska residents are receiving COVID-19 in record numbers as scarcity of some treatments prioritizes those most at risk

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Alaska is so low in its supply of certain COVID-19 treatments that only the most severely at risk will have access to it, although an unprecedented number of Alaskans are testing positive during the current omicron rise. .

The state reported 5,508 new cases between residents and non-residents over the previous two days on Friday. That comes 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, compared to 80 on Wednesday. While this is a fraction of the record number of hospitalizations reported last fall, hospital administrators this week say facilities are once again strained by rising patient numbers and staff 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 city residents accounted for more than half of new cases reported by the state health department. The Anchorage School District reported 1,171 cases currently active as of Friday afternoon among more than 49,000 students and staff, though the district board does not include all cases tracked by the state.

Alaska reported two additional virus-related deaths on Friday, involving two 60-year-old Anchorage residents. Since the start of the pandemic, 955 Alaskans and 32 non-residents have died from the virus.

September and October 2021 were the deadliest months of the pandemic to date. Although recent case counts have surpassed previous records, officials say there are some indications that the rise in omicron may not be as severe as the delta wave in terms of hospitalizations or deaths.

However, the omicron variant poses new challenges.

Monoclonal antibody treatments have been important in the early treatment of patients with COVID-19, especially those at high risk for serious illness, such as immunocompromised individuals. But two of the three types of monoclonal antibody treatments available are not effective against omicron, which is putting pressure on the supply of treatments.

Meanwhile, more recent oral antiviral treatment is also scarce, though for a variety of reasons, according to state pharmacist Coleman Cutchins. The oral drug was only recently authorized as a treatment for COVID-19 and a large amount has not yet been manufactured, he said.

Both the novelty of the drug and the high demand amid the increase in the number of cases have led to its scarcity. But that probably won’t be the case for a long time, Cutchins said. .

The scarcity of some treatments led the Alaska Crisis Care Committee to recommend that treatment providers prioritize people with certain medical conditions at certain levels, with those most at risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID. -19 at the top.

State Medical Director Dr. Anne Zink said this week that there are likely to be enough newer monoclonal antibodies and newer oral antiviral treatments for people at the first level.

This group includes those whose immune system does not respond adequately to the vaccine or a past infection due to underlying conditions, as well as people who are unaware of their vaccine and are 75 years of age or older, 65 years or older with factors risk. or pregnant, as recommended.

[Americans will be able to order free COVID-19 rapid tests starting Wednesday]

Shipments of monoclonal antibodies arrive in one-week cycles, enough to supply 13 therapy sites with six doses each, a total of 78 doses, Cutchins said. Most states receive a small allocation, as treatments are difficult to manufacture and take time to increase production.

He said the situation around treatment is not entirely negative: most vaccinated and potentiated people are unlikely to need monoclonal antibodies, and there are two new oral drugs that also work against COVID-19, including omicron variant, although data are limited, according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Oral drugs are really a game changer,” he said.

Antibody infusions, which require an IV and a sterile environment, are much less convenient compared to the ease of taking an oral drug. But oral drugs are still in short supply today, although Cutchins said he expects to see them more quickly, even in the next two weeks and even more a month from mid-January.

“As orals become more and more available, we actually have much less need for monoclonal ones,” he said.

Jyll Green, operations manager of a state-contracted monoclonal treatment facility in Anchorage, described the lack of supply on Thursday morning as “a rather serious situation”.

It started the day after Christmas, when his phone’s voice message was full at 4 p.m. They returned to make about 50 infusions every day, six days a week. On Thursday, Green had only 24 doses available, with six already registered and only a light shipment was expected for the following week.

“It’s been a great boat to turn around: 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 he has held hundreds of conversations with people who let them know he could not give them treatment.

“If we had it, we’d love to give it to you,” Green said. “We are not trying to be rude, we would like to help everyone, but we still have to protect this most risky group right now.”

So far no one was able to send in the perfect solution, which is not strange.

Daily News journalist Annie Berman contributed to this article.

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