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Arizona hospitals adjust as omicron variant contributes to a new COVID-19 surge

By Ben Giles
Published: Tuesday, December 28, 2021 - 5:02pm

Banner University Medicine
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
Banner University Medicine in Phoenix.

Effective Tuesday, Banner hospitals and health clinics are no longer administering monoclonal antibody treatment to COVID-19 patients.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel, Banner’s chief clinical officer, said the monoclonal antibodies doctors have been using aren’t as effective against the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is on the verge of being the dominant strain in Arizona. Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute reports more than half of COVID-19 samples it has tested in the past week appear to be caused by omicron.

Banner facilities are awaiting shipments of a different monoclonal antibody, sotrovimab, that is more effective against omicron.

“We do expect to receive sotrovimab supply during the week of Jan. 3. We do anticipate also that initial supplies will be extremely limited,” Bessel told reporters on Tuesday. “Now's a good time to get vaccinated or boostered if you've not done so already.”

Bessel said early evidence suggests that Omicron infections may produce less severe COVID-19 symptoms. But the latest strain is also highly contagious, resulting in higher vaccine breakthrough infections. Vaccines and boosters remain the best defense against serious COVID-19 illness, Bessel said.

Dr. Marjorie Bessel
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Marjorie Bessel

Preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations will be critical in the new year, as a surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations is projected to continue into mid-January. COVID-19 patients account for 40% of Banner’s ICU admissions, Bessel said — of those, nearly 90% are unvaccinated.

Bessel said hospitals have paused cases that would have required a stay in the ICU, and may have to postpone treatment for non-emergency cases if inpatient bed availability decreases further.

Those who do require treatment for COVID-19 do now have access to a new antiviral pill. Bessel said Banner health facilities have a limited supply of Pfizer’s Paxlovid, and began writing prescriptions for the drug on Tuesday.

“Because of its limited supply, it is only going to be prescribed to individuals of very high risk category, there are going to be age criteria for that, as well as individuals who have other comorbidities,” Bessel said.

Bessel cautioned the drug may not be right for everyone — some patients may be at risk of an adverse reaction to Paxlovid depending on what other drugs they’re taking, or if they’re experiencing other serious illnesses.

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