CLEVELAND, Ohio — Vulnerable Ohioans are hoping for easier access to a potentially life-saving COVID-19 therapy. Some immunocompromised individuals say the preventative drug Evusheld offers hope for more effective protection from the virus, but it has been difficult to find.
“Everyone else, their freedoms now with the world opening up, is only increasing our problems. Immunocompromised people have to stay in their COVID prison,” said Darlene Teachout.
When the Eastlake resident was finally able to receive a kidney transplant at the Cleveland Clinic in August 2021, she hoped it would improve her quality of life. The procedure was successful, but the new organ also put her at an increased risk of a severe case of COVID-19.
To limit her exposure, Teachout limited contact with anyone outside of her household. She didn’t see many of her family and friends in-person for nearly seven months after the surgery.
“My 3-year-old granddaughter would just sob when I talked to her on the phone, saying she thought I’d never be able to hug her again. It was really hard,” Teachout recalls.
In recent months, as the world reopened and health restrictions were lifted, Teachout has not been able to return to a normal way of life.
“I’m doing well with it and I feel good,” she explained of the transplant. “I wish I could do more but, like I said, I feel like I’m in prison. I can’t go anywhere. When I do go anywhere, I wear a double mask because I’m afraid. I don’t want to get sick.”
Teachout is among roughly 7 million Americans considered immunocompromised. Their immune systems are less responsive to the COVID-19 vaccine, while at the same time they are more susceptible to illness and infection.
“More now than ever, we need that protection because now variants are more transmissible, they’re lifting mask restrictions, the world is opening up to those who have been vaccinated,” Teachout said. “But immunocompromised people don’t have the antibodies to fight the COVID.”
In December, the FDA granted emergency use authorization of the Astrazeneca drug Evusheld for immunocompromised individuals to prevent coronavirus. It’s a combination of two monoclonal antibodies, administered in two consecutive shots. Research suggests it’s up to 77% effective in preventing COVID-19.
Since it was authorized, a little more than 1 million courses have been distributed throughout the U.S. Providers, like the Cleveland Clinic, say they were given a somewhat limited supply. Teachout said she was told the available courses were prioritized for the highest risk patients.
According to an interactive map created by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), there were about 4,000 courses of Evusheld available in northeast Ohio Saturday. The treatment requires a prescription and Teachout said other providers she has contacted are reserving the drug for their own patients.
In mid-March, White House officials announced a planned purchase of new doses would have to be scaled back because of limited funding. According to HHS, Ohio received a shipment of 7,000 more courses this past week, although it’s unclear how they will be distributed.
Teachout said she’s frustrated over the limited availability of the potentially life-saving drug.
“We’re being put aside. We have no protection against this disease while everyone else is protected,” she said.