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1,500 said to refuse COVID antibody treatment, leading to preventable deaths

One healthcare provider says it believes 10 died after refusing Regeneron’s treatment; medication offered at no cost to patients since September, with priority to the unvaccinated

Medic works in the coronavirus ward of the Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem, January 13, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Medic works in the coronavirus ward of the Herzog Medical Center in Jerusalem, January 13, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At least 10 people, and possibly dozens more, have died after refusing a potentially life-saving anti-COVID-19 treatment, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.

The Meuhedet health maintenance organization, Israel’s third-largest health provider, serving over a million of the country’s population of some 9.5 million, reported that 10 patients who had refused the treatment died of the disease. The country’s three other HMOs did not say how many people they believed had died after refusing the treatment, but the Channel 12 said an additional 1,500 patients had refused Regeneron’s under-the-skin injection of synthetic antibody treatment.

Channel 12 calculated, without explaining its methodology, that on that basis, there could be around 120 people in Israel who died after refusing the potentially life-saving treatment.

The report did not say whether there was any relation between individuals’ vaccination status and their attitude toward the treatment, nor did it give a time period for when those deaths or refusals of the medication were reported.

It also was not reported how many people experienced a worsening of their condition and required hospital care after they refused the treatment.

In September, Israel began to widely administer Regeneron’s antibody treatment to COVID-19 patients with a risk of developing a serious disease, prioritizing the unvaccinated who are far more likely to deteriorate.

A Regeneron monoclonal antibody infusion bag is seen at a hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, August 19, 2021. (Joe Cavaretta/ South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, File)

At that time, the virulent Delta variant was the dominant strain in Israel.

Initial reports at the time the treatment was introduced said that the Meuhedet health fund, which offered the medication at no cost while the patients were still only suffering mild symptoms, found the unvaccinated were more likely to refuse it while those who had received the vaccine accepted the treatment.

Regeneron was famously given to then-US president Donald Trump when he was sick with COVID-19 in 2020.

Last week it was reported that about one in three people in Israel offered treatment with Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill paxlovid have also refused to take the drug. Israel began distributing the first coronavirus pills to at-risk patients earlier this month. Paxlovid has been found in tests to be very effective in preventing the disease from becoming severe.

Channel 12 news said that about 1,000 people have started taking the pill. But some 400 eligible patients have refused to take it. Due to limited initial supplies, only patients considered to be at high risk can currently get the pill.

Paxlovid is designed for at-home treatment of high-risk COVID-infected patients over the age of 12. Pfizer told the FDA that in a 2,250-patient trial, the pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent when given to people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 within three days of symptoms. Less than 1% of patients taking the drug were hospitalized and none died at the end of the 30-day study period, compared with 6.5% of patients hospitalized in the group getting a placebo pill, which included nine deaths.

Paxlovid has only proven effective if given within five days of symptoms appearing. The treatment consists of three pills taken twice a day for five days.

Airport workers unload packages of Pfizer’s COVID-fighting Paxlovid pill at Ben Gurion International Airport on December 30, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel’s rush to obtain and prescribe COVID treatments come as the highly infectious Omicron variant has rapidly driven up morbidity in the country’s fifth wave of coronavirus.

Though Omicron is generally milder than previous strains of COVID-19, it is also far more infectious. Recent days have seen daily case counts and the number of patients in serious condition steadily rise.

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