210901-yh-news-vaxquestions

FILE—Danielle Erickson self administers a COVID-19 test Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, at the testing site at State Fair Park in Yakima, Wash.

As many Yakima Valley residents weigh whether to get vaccinated, they’re asking questions about the efficacy and safety of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as other methods of intervention.

Earlier this month, state public health experts fielded some of those questions in a candid online question and answer forum. Topics included how to deal with mild symptoms, as well as controversial treatments such as Ivermectin, a drug normally used to fight parasites in humans and animals.

Here are answers to vaccine questions from Dr. Scott Lindquist, state epidemiologist for communicable diseases, and Kathy Bay, the state Department of Health’s clinical and quality assurance section manager — as well as Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital’s chief medical officer Dr. Marty Brueggemann.

This is the second of three parts.

What early treatments can be used among patients who test positive for COVID-19 but don’t have severe symptoms?

“There have been no treatments that have proven to be effective in non-hospitalized patients, with the possible exception of monoclonal antibodies,” Brueggemann said.

Monoclonal antibody therapy is proving to be effective in staving off severe symptoms in certain variants of COVID-19, said Lindquist of DOH. It is effective in treating COVID-19 after infection but before serious conditions that would lead to hospitalization emerge, he said. But it requires technology and monitoring that many clinics do not have, and it has not gained significant interest among clinicians or patients.

“There’s no question about the science behind it. It’s not as awe-inspiring as the vaccine’s efficacy numbers, but it’s still quite effective and has very low side effects or risk,” he said.

Brueggemann said the logistical challenges of providing monoclonal antibody infusions mean that it “is not currently available on a routine basis in Yakima, although we continue to explore partnership opportunities in the community to make it available.”

Astria Toppenish Hospital and Astria Sunnyside Hospital offer monoclonal antibodies.

While monoclonal antibody therapy may become more widely available in the future to treat individuals who are infected with COVID-19 but not very sick, vaccines prevent the likelihood of infection altogether, Bay said. Vaccines remain the better option, she said.

In the meantime, Brueggemann said patients continue to seek non-effective alternative treatments.

“Patients have sought out all manner of non-traditional treatments and we certainly have providers in the community who provide unapproved and ineffective treatments, such as Ivermectin, but the majority of physicians discourage the use of these treatments,” he said.

What about Ivermectin?

Ivermectin is a drug used to treat parasites in humans and animals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state Department of Health, World Health Organization and Ivermectin’s developer, Merck, have all warned against using the drug to treat COVID-19.

“Although it is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of some parasitic worms, external parasites and skin conditions, evidence shows it is ineffective against treating the COVID-19 virus and the side effects can be potentially dangerous,” the state Department of Health said in a news release last week.

Side effects can include nausea and vomiting, seizures, a sudden drop in blood pressure and liver injury, it said.

Requests and prescriptions for the drug are 24 times higher than pre-pandemic, and more than twice the previous peak of demand in January, DOH said. In July, “poison control centers across the country reported a five-fold increase in the number of calls for human exposure to ivermectin,” it said.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 and prevent severe illness, it said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add that Astria Health hospitals in Yakima County offer monoclonal antibodies.

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