Why are COVID antibody drugs sitting on shelves?

The supply is limited. The two companies with authorized versions, Eli Lily and Regeneron, will ship a little more than one million doses by the end of the year. Evidence suggests that for every 10 high-risk patients treated, one hospitalization might be avoided. That may sound modest, but it adds up: a million doses administered could translate into 100,000 fewer hospitalizations. Such a reprieve would help hospitals keep up with the current surge.

The biggest difficulty is logistical. Patients need to be referred for antibodies soon after diagnosis. The infusion takes several hours to prepare, deliver and monitor. A specialized nurse must supervise, with protective equipment, in a space separate from other patients to minimize spread.

Most early doses have been going to hospitals. But many hospitals are strapped by Covid and having a hard time setting up dedicated space and redirecting trained nursing and support staff. The government should send more antibodies to community infusion centers and clinics that have taken steps to administer doses. These clinics can work with testing sites to speed referrals.