What are monoclonal antibodies? A Memphis health expert explains


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — What do monoclonal antibodies do, and who is eligible to receive the treatment? WREG is learning more about the infusion process and questioning city officials about expanding treatment. 

Dr. Cassandra Howard with Methodist Le Bonheur says the goal is for a person to receive the monoclonal antibody treatment when they have mild symptoms.

“Think of it as like a protein cocktail and the monoclonal antibody infusion contains protective antibodies to help curtail the progression of COVID-19 infection,” Howard said. “Hopefully preventing hospitalization and definitely preventing death.”

Those receiving the treatment are at increased risk. Currently, the Tennessee National Guard is helping Methodist Le Bonheur with the process.

“They may have additional medical conditions, they may be older in age, they may be on immunosuppressive therapies or be in an immunosuppressive disease state,” Howard said.

Howard explained the difference between this treatment and a vaccination.

“So, a vaccination is really your primary, protective measure. We would encourage everyone, do not think of the monoclonal antibody as a substitute vaccination,” Howard said. “Vaccination is your primary, preventative measure. Think of this as an early treatment for those with additional risk factors in the event they become infected with COVID-19.”

She says it’s an extra layer of protection to add to a vaccination. Recently some states have offered monoclonal infusion on a large scale.

Thursday, City of Memphis officials called it “an important part of the strategy” to fighting COVID-19. We asked about any plans to expand treatments here in the Mid-South. 

“We are doing everything we can to ramp up capacity to serve people with monoclonal antibodies,” McGowen said.

He says the hospital systems offering the infusion have recently increased their capacity by 50 percent.

“We are working with our partners at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Regional One to begin offering some capacity there,” McGowen said. “We’re not ready to schedule the appointments yet but we’ll begin this week with hopes that we can ramp that up.”

You can call Methodist Le Bonheur at 901-516-2255 to see if you qualify for treatment. Treatment is also available at other locations in Tennessee and in Mississippi.

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