Dr. Stephen Brierre,.jpg

Dr. Stephen Brierre, the head of critical care at Baton Rouge General and a professor at LSU, talks to staff in the ICU on Wednesday, August 4, 2021. 

Baton Rouge General will open a monoclonal antibodies infusion center later this week for vulnerable people infected with COVID-19, expanding access to a treatment doctors say is effective at keeping people who are sick with the virus out of the hospital.

The center will be located on BRG's Bluebonnet campus and will allow for up to 80 infusions a day, according to a news release. COVID patients that are 65 or older, are overweight, pregnant or have a number of other preexisting conditions that make them vulnerable to the virus are eligible to receive the treatment at the center, according to the news release. 

“Early data show that monoclonal antibodies can successfully reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations rates and emergency department visits,” said Dr. Louis Minsky, chief of staff at BRG. “As our local hospitals are bursting at the seams with COVID-19 patients, many requiring critical care, the hope is to relieve some of that pressure.”

The system already offers the treatment at its hospital in Ascension and one of its urgent care locations, said spokeswoman Katie Johnston. Officials hope the new center will allow for fewer hospitalizations in the Baton Rouge area as the infectious delta variant propels a record-breaking surge of hospitalizations that is overwhelming the city's health care systems. 

Most hospitals offer the treatment, which helps jumpstart the body's immune response to the virus. It typically takes an hour and a half to administer and is given through an IV infusion.

"It's very effective at keeping people who aren't that sick from needing hospitalization if it's given quickly, if it's given with the first few days of somebody having symptoms," Dr. Joe Kanter, the state's top public health official, said last week.

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The treatment is time-sensitive: patients should receive the infusion as soon as possible after a positive COVID-19 test result or within 10 days of the development of symptoms to get the best results.

The Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization in 2020 allowing several different monoclonal antibodies as a treatment option for COVID-19. BRG is administering is REGEN-COV, which is a combination of the drugs casirivimab and imdevimab, according to the news release.

BRG's center will hold 15 infusion bays and will be staffed with assistance from the Louisiana Department of Health, according to the release. 

The treatment isn't intended to replace the vaccines, which are highly effective on their own at combating the deadly virus. But officials hope its use can free up bed space as hospitals grapple with the latest and worst surge of COVID.

Last week, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said monoclonal antibodies are a "big part of our strategy to preserve hospital capacity."

Staff writer Blake Paterson contributed to this report.