New Jersey's largest healthcare system, RWJBarnabas Health, said last week it has passed the benchmark of 10,000 doses of monoclonal antibody infusions given to COVID-19 patients, allowing an overwhelming majority of those treated to avoid hospitalization and recover at home.

RWJBarnabas claims that is the most robust treatment program of its kind in the region.

The 11 acute care hospitals in the RWJBarnabas network throughout the state are collectively reporting a 96% success rate, according to Dr. Christopher Freer, senior vice president of emergency and hospitalist medicine.

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"Success, to us, is that you recovered at home, did not need a hospitalization, and we're very proud of that," Freer said.

To be eligible to receive this treatment, a patient must have tested positive for the coronavirus within 10 days of symptom onset, and not be in need of oxygen or hospitalization of any kind.

"If you're sick enough to get in the hospital, you're past that point," Freer said. "We want to get you early on, before you get to that point, and then avoid a hospital admission."

Freer said RWJBarnabas turned to monoclonal antibodies, lab-made proteins coded from COVID survivors' genetic material meant to boost the immune system, as soon as the therapy received an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2020.

At that early stage of the pandemic, he said the medical profession was helpless and at a loss for solutions, so the decision to make as much use of this treatment as possible was an easy one.

"The two goals were, do everything we can for our patients while we have them in our hands, and prevent admissions and save hospital beds for other patients," Freer said, "and keep patients home with their families and friends to recover."

According to the health system, monoclonal antibodies are administered via IV in an approximately hour-long process. Patients are then monitored for another hour and, if everything checks out, sent home with instructions to check back in periodically.

As other treatments, primarily the three U.S.-approved COVID-19 vaccines, became available, the buzz about antibody therapy seemed to somewhat fade. But the 10,400 doses now given out by RWJBarnabas stand as evidence of a "silver lining," according to Freer.

"The vaccine is far and away the No. 1 tool, but we have a pretty empty toolbox right now, so this monoclonal antibody (therapy), for us, was something we just saw right away and said, let's do this," he said.

Managing what's left of the COVID crisis seems to be the strategy at this stage, Freer said, and the "success" of antibody treatment parallels that of the vaccine in that a person might still have to battle COVID-19, but more than likely won't require a hospital stay.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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