ASEHBORO — Randolph Primary Care PA prepares their medium-sized room before 9 a.m., six days a week, for the four delta patients on their schedule. The entrance at the back of the building provides privacy and security, only allowing patients who wait in their cars to enter when they call.
Dr. Jason Van Eyk talks with the nurses, checks for supplies and gets situated in protective gear. The blue shoe covers, yellow clothes covering, mask and face shield go on as soon as the first patient is set to arrive.
The patients walk in, looking around at the four tan and green infusion chairs. They talk with each other, asking where they came from, where they think they got COVID-19, and how they felt at the moment.
The nurses check their heart rates then press around for a vein to insert the clear antibody treatment. As soon as the needle goes in, it’s a waiting game — 21 minutes for the infusion to work and another hour to monitor patient outcomes.
Although the treatment is meant to help high-risk patients, it is not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19.
Van Eyk got sick with COVID-19 in January, and as a physician working in critical care, he almost died. He was stuck with a rare side effect that he would not recover from for as long as two years. This diagnosis started his involvement to push for the monoclonal antibody treatment, REGEN-COV, manufactured by Regeneron.
Van Eyk grew up in Asheboro, attended Asheboro High School and has family roots in this town for decades. This community is important to him, and he does not want anyone else to go through what he experienced.
Monoclonal antibodies are made in a laboratory to fight particular infections. For example, the REGEN-COV is an antibody used to treat COVID-19 within 10 days of having symptoms in high-risk patients.
Requirements for the infusion include mild to moderate COVID-19, not hospitalized and at least one risk factor. Risk factors include people 65 and older, high chronic disease, diabetes, HIV, heart disease and asthma.
The infusion is supposed to reduce death and the hospitalization rate up to 70%. Van Eyk said people are calling the antibody liquid gold.
The doctor created and wrote a protocol for nurses to treat issues including anaphylaxis, an acute allergic reaction to an antigen, that patients could get from the treatment.
“We have a provider here at all times when this is going on. Usually, we have one or two nurse practitioners in the building and at least one physician,” Van Eyk said.
If patients get really sick and dehydrated, the staff can give them IV fluids, and if they are nauseated, they are given nausea medicine.
Since October, Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro has been treating patients, but the state allowed Van Eyk to start local infusions. His infusion clinic, at 350 N. Cox St., Suite 6, has been giving infusions for about two weeks and is the only one in Randolph County.
The biggest impact Van Eyk has seen is the guidance he received from the health department, epidemiologists and the cooperation of city doctor’s offices in the county. He called the health department and said he was going to start an infusion clinic. He was advised by a head nurse of the COVID-19 division to talk to urgent care facilities and emergency rooms about the clinic.
“I immediately had a meeting with White Oak and talked to all the physicians and talked to urgent cares in Randleman,” Van Eyk said. “I even made phone calls and showed up to other people’s offices and told the primary care doctors in town if they’re testing for COVID, we are doing infusions.”
Van Eyk said one of the reasons he contacted the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services was because the closest clinic was 40 minutes away. He wanted get county residents treated. The clinic has also seen referrals for residents from Davidson County and received calls from people in South Carolina.
Catie Armstrong, the press assistant for the health department, said while vaccines offer the best protection from COVID-19, treatment options such as monoclonal antibodies are available.
“If taken early, they can reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. Individuals who have recently tested positive have symptoms of COVID are encouraged to talk to their health care provider to see if monoclonal antibody therapy is an option for them,” Armstrong said.
She also recommends people call the Combat COVID Monoclonal Antibodies Call Center at 877-332-6585 to find a treatment center.
Under section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, when the secretary of Health and Human Services declares that an emergency use authorization is appropriate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration may authorize unapproved medical products or unapproved uses of approved medical products for emergency use.
On Aug. 10, the administration revised the emergency use authorization for REGEN-COV as post-exposure prevention for COVID-19 in adults and children 12 and older weighing at least 88 pounds who are at high risk of hospitalization or death.
Van Eyk said he is proud to be a part of the solution to protect high-risk patients and has received positive feedback from fellow doctors. He sees patients at the clinic and travels with his staff to nursing homes that have seen half of their residents positive for COVID-19.
He believes bringing more awareness to the available options in rural areas is important to stop outbreaks.