BUTTE, Mont. (AP) — The state has helped open a monoclonal antibody infusion clinic at St. James Health in Butte as part of an effort to reduce the severity of COVID-19 cases and free up hospital beds, Gov. Greg Gianforte said Thursday.
The clinic is being run by a private contractor and can treat up to 12 patients per day. While monoclonal antibody treatment has been available in 41 counties, this clinic relieves St. James of having to provide staff for the treatment and allows it to be available on more days.
“Undoubtedly this new clinic here at St. James will save more lives,” Gianforte said.
Monoclonal antibodies have emergency use authorization as a treatment for COVID-19 for non-hospitalized people within the first 10 days of experiencing symptoms. They are also authorized as a preventative for people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, are at high risk of suffering severe symptoms and are not fully vaccinated.
They work by mimicking an immune system response to the coronavirus.
The new clinic in Butte is a pilot program and is a model for clinics that can be set up in other communities, Gianforte said.
“While we know monoclonal antibodies are a proven method of life-saving treatment, vaccines offer a proven method of life-saving prevention,” Gianforte said.
Montana is the second-leading state in the country in the rate of new COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
As of Thursday, just over 500,000 Montanans are fully immunized, which is 54% of the eligible population.
Gianforte said he'd like to see the rate of vaccination increase, but creating a mandate would likely increase hesitancy in those who are not yet vaccinated. He encouraged people to talk to their medical provider and get a safe and effective vaccine.
Montana has surveyed unvaccinated residents to try and identify a message — and a messenger — to increase the state's vaccination rate, said Adam Meier, director of the state health department.
The state is also ready to accept vaccines for kids ages 5-11 as soon as they are approved and available, likely early next month, said Maggie Cook-Shimanek, the acting state medical officer.