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How do monoclonal antibodies work and why aren't they a replacement for the COVID vaccine?

Monoclonal antibodies are an effective treatment for COVID-19, but doctors say they have a short memory.

ATLANTA — Monoclonal antibodies have become a popular and effective treatment to guard against serious cases of COVID-19, but health experts are constantly reminding people that the treatment is not a replacement for the vaccine.

Your body produces antibodies that stick to an intruder, like a virus, allowing the immune system to kill it. Monoclonal antibodies are designed in a lab to attack a specific part of a virus.

Dr. M.G. Finn, of Georgia Tech, points out that laboratory created antibodies come with an expiration date.

“It’s not long term protection,” Dr. Finn said. “You’re simulating what your own immune system will do, but you’re only simulating it for a few days.”

COVID-19 vaccines teach your body how to fight an invasion by the coronavirus and continue fighting long after your shot. Vaccines help your immune system develop a memory that helps it remember how to fight the virus.

Dr. Finn said protection offered from a vaccine last much longer than the fight generated by an infusion of antibodies.

“The antibody is very likely to help but it’s not as good as your own immune system which produce many different antibodies that grab onto different parts of the virus and do a much better job of fighting it off,” Dr. Finn said.

Research by the Mayo Clinic found monoclonal antibodies reduce the risk of hospitalization 60 to 70 percent when given to high risk patients sick with COVID-19.


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