Is Treatment with Antibodies a Substitute for Vaccination for Covid-19?

I read the news article about scientists publishing a study which shows it’s possible to make antibodies that may neutralize most of the Covid-19 variants. I read this after failing to find any local facility in my area that has the updated bivalent Covid-19 vaccine booster available yet. Sena and I plan to get the booster, which would be our 5th shot.

I don’t have a clue how to evaluate the study itself, which was published in an Open Access journal, Communications Biology. I didn’t understand the peer reviewers’ comments and suggestions because I lack the scientific background to make sense of them.

I was under the impression that using antibodies for Covid-19 has to be prompted by getting infected first. In fact, the lead author of the study actually points out in the news article in published in the Jerusalem Post,

“In our view, targeted treatment with antibodies and their delivery to the body in high concentrations can serve as an effective substitute for repeated boosters, especially for at-risk populations and those with weakened immune systems. COVID-19 infection can cause serious illness, and we know that providing antibodies in the first days following infection can stop the spread of the virus.

“It is, therefore, possible that by using effective antibody treatment, we will not have to provide booster doses to the entire population every time there is a new variant,” Freund concluded.

I understand that immunity wanes after vaccination and that’s frustrating because apparently you need another booster every few months.

But I’m not sure I see how the antibody treatment would be a replacement for vaccines, if that’s the implication.

The interventions sound complementary. Wouldn’t it be better to have vaccine-induced immunity and use the antibodies as a backup treatment when you get infected?

I got the impression from reading about monoclonal antibody treatments that they have to be administered by infusions in specialty clinics. And you have to catch it in the first few days. And the indication for it is getting infected with the virus—which I thought could be avoided in the first place by getting vaccinated.

The plan now seems to be to manufacture vaccines annually to target important variants of Covid-19, similar to what we’ve been doing for influenza. We’ve been getting flu shots every year for a long time. Maybe we won’t need to get boosters every few months.

It makes sense to use antibodies for immunocompromised persons, though, because they don’t respond as well to vaccines.

Why would we “substitute” monoclonal antibody infusions administered in clinics to treat infections for vaccines which can prevent severe disease and death?

I’m not knocking the study; I’m just a retired psychiatrist, not an infectious disease scientist. Am I missing something?

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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