THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Private hospitals in state continue to administer monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), an expensive drug used for reducing the severity of COVID due to the Delta variant, despite clear evidence that it is ineffective against Omicron.
A single jab costs between Rs 52,000 and Rs 60,000. There have been complaints that the patients are actively encouraged by the hospitals to take the drug.
"There were instances when some hospitals reduced the price to Rs 40,000 to make it more palatable for patients. Sometimes, they give the drug and not report it in the medical records. There is no rationale in giving such an expensive drug when the Omicron's community prevalence is high," said an epidemiologist who did not want to be named.
The monoclonal antibodies were used effectively in the second wave to reduce the severity of disease. The use continued even at the beginning of the third wave when both Delta and Omicron viruses were in circulation.
In the third week of January, the health department issued guidelines restricting the use of mAbs to a category of people including unvaccinated and other immune compromised.
It specifically asked hospital medical boards to conduct tests to rule out Omicron infection before giving the mAbs. A week later, Health Minister Veena George announced the dominance of Omicron as 94 per cent of the samples tested were infected with the new variant.
Ronapreve, a combination of two monoclonal antibodies, is the drug available in the country. Worldwide, it’s demand declined with the emergence of Omicron. Though the demand declined in the state too, the health expert said that the present use borders on the ethical guidelines.
"The use of mAbs has come down in many hospitals. But it is still in use because patients also demand it. The factors that pushed the demand was the advertisement and the insurance coverage," said Indian Medical Association vice-president Dr Gopikumar P.
He said the individual hospitals decided to give a pause on administering the drug based on the evidence emerging and even before the government guidelines came. Monoclonal antibodies were introduced as a life saving drug cocktail for COVID patients with comorbidities.
It became popular even among healthier patients despite being an expensive drug.However, many doctors have found the claim exaggerated and the effect is limited to those with a few conditions at best.