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UPMC clinical leaders announced Thursday the results of one of the first-ever clinical study comparing methods of administering COVID-19 treatment during a surge in cases. And they discussed plans to analyze the effectiveness of vaccines and treatments against the new Omicron variant.

UPMC officials said they have found a COVID treatment which they said is as effective as IV infusion but arguably more accessible.

“We will be among the first in the United States to analyze the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies against omicron,” Dr. Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, told reporters Thursday.

UPMC’s research looked at monoclonal antibody therapy.

Their team followed over 2,000 patients who received monoclonal antibodies, either by this under-the-skin injection or by IV infusion, for 28 days. Researchers compared them to a group of patients who have high-risk criteria for disease but did not receive treatment.

“What we found is that subcutaneous injections of REGENERON’s COVID-19 treatment worked essentially as effectively as the IV at keeping our patients alive and out of the hospital,” Dr. Erin McCreary, a infectious diseases pharmacist and UPMC’s director of antimicrobial stewardship innovation, said.

“And, the subcutaneous injections were associated with a nearly 60% lower chance of being hospitalized or dying compared to patients who did not get treatment,” she added.

With nationwide staffing shortages affecting hospitals, hospital workers are spread thin. UPMC officials say this treatment could possibly ease this and related issues, and they recommend hospitals consider this treatment.

“This could greatly expand available locations for patients to receive treatment, as it’s much easier to give, and there are more staff available to give this than with the IV infusions,” McCreary said.

In the meantime, the officials weigh this research with observing if current vaccines are as effective against the Omicron variant.

“We do not yet know what impact these vaccines will have against the Omicron variant,” Snyder said.

“I do not suspect that they’ll have no impact. They will be effective against Omicron. The question is will they be as effective as they currently are against Delta, or will we see some small or modest drop in the effectiveness,” he added.

Nonetheless, UPMC will monitor global and local data to learn more about this new COVID variant.

“It is promising that the early signal is that it could cause less severe disease but we’re going to need some confirmation of that more broadly to know that that’s the case. It can also change how the virus is transmitted and we don’t really have a lot of information yet on whether it’s transmitted from person to person more effectively or less effectively. I will say, it is concerning how quickly it is spreading in South Africa. And so, we’ll be watching globally to see how quickly it spreads and whether or not it’s more contagious,” Snyder said.

In the coming weeks, we will hopefully see more data on Omicron and COVID treatments as more research is conducted.

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