On January 12 the U.S. government announced it was purchasing an additional 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s Evusheld, the only pre-exposure treatment approved by the FDA for immune-compromised people who cannot mount a response to the available COVID vaccines. This brings the total U.S. commitment to purchase this vital treatment to 1.2 million doses.
While this is excellent news, the new agreement still falls far short of the doses needed to provide protection for the 7 million people who are immune compromised in the U.S. Furthermore, like vaccines, this treatment will likely have to be repeated (studies suggest every 6 months). An ongoing supply will be needed.
I care about this for two highly personal reasons.
My husband was treated for lymphoma in 2021. Unfortunately, one of the wonderful drugs (Rituximab) that helped him achieve remission also depleted his B cells. He has received four vaccines (two Pfizers before treatment and two Modernas after) and still has no discernable neutralizing antibodies to COVID. Because his underlying condition leaves him extremely vulnerable to a bad outcome from the virus, we have remained almost completely isolated for the past 22 months. We do not go to the store. We do not go inside the post office. We limit our visits to doctors and dentists. Neither of us is able to work in person. We need Evusheld in order to regain some ability to return to daily activities outside our home.
I am also an altruistic living organ donor. I donated a kidney in 2018 at the Mayo Clinic to a woman I read about in the newspaper. Many organ transplant recipients remain vulnerable to COVID due to the immune suppressant medications they must take to “keep” their new organs. They need Evusheld, too. It is horrifying that our government would fail to purchase the needed drugs to preserve the valuable gift represented by organ donation.
Protecting immune compromised people from COVID matters to the general population, too. Studies show the virus can remain within immune compromised patients for months, providing a ready breeding ground for variants. In fact, many scientists believe that’s how Omicron evolved. Protecting the immune compromised will help limit future variants.
The U.S. government has made a clear and vocal commitment to purchase sufficient vaccine doses to give every American who is eligible both vaccines and boosters. And yet it has failed to make a similar commitment to protect those who are most vulnerable to the virus. Providing COVID protection to the immune compromised must be a vital component of any long-term pandemic mitigation strategy.
The federal government must buy enough Evusheld for everyone who needs it.
Contributed by Martha Gershun
Ed. Note – you can help by signing this letter to Secretary Becerra of the US Department of Health and Human Services (link)