Vaccine holdouts embrace COVID antibody treatment, mystifying doctors


Vaccine resistance still remains for some

Seth Thurman, an IT technician from Mount Pleasant, Tex., acknowledges he was hesitant to get the vaccine at first because he felt it was fast-tracked, “experimental,” might cause unknown side effects, was developed quickly, and was being pushed by government officials.

“I shared the same sentiments as a lot of other people [as] some of the reasons why I might have been hesitant in the beginning to get the vaccine, says Mr. Thurman, 47. “A lot of people don’t trust what’s out there, maybe what the government is pushing, so I was taking a wait-and-see approach.”

In August, he relented and received the first of the two-shot Moderna vaccine. But several weeks later, he developed COVID and took his doctor’s advice to receive antibody therapy at Titus Regional Medical Center.

The results were almost immediate.

“I noticed within just a few hours of getting that infusion I was feeling better,” he says. “And by the next day, I was feeling great. No more temperature and no cough and no loss of taste and smell. And today, I’m 100%.”

Having had COVID convinced him of the importance of getting the vaccine, and he plans to get the second dose of the shot after the prescribed 90-day waiting period.

But Mr. Jones, the Houston architect, remains unconvinced, even after suffering what he describes as a “horrible” experience with COVID.

“It’s something I’m still thinking about,” he says of the vaccine. “But I can’t imagine that there wouldn’t be some sort of side effects from something that was developed so fast and had not gone through 4 or 5 years of vetting or trials. So that kind of just leaves doubt in my mind.

“And it’s just so weird that something so personal has become so public -- like people’s medical decisions now are on the front page of The New York Times. When did we think something like that would ever happen?”

The quick results of his treatment were so “remarkable” that he’d recommend it to anyone without hesitation, he says.

“If my story can help people be willing to seek out this infusion and take it early on in their COVID experience, I think it would not only save lives and keep people out of our hospitals and not overwhelm our hospital systems,” he says.

Dr. Huang agrees that the IV therapy is a great “fallback option” for people who’ve been infected, who have weakened immune systems, or can’t receive the vaccine for other health reasons. But for most people, he argues, the vaccine is the best way to go. That’s why Houston Methodist advises the shot for every patient like Mr. Jones, who’s been treated for COVID.

“Getting the vaccine is the way to go for the vast number of people,” he says.

Frederick Thurmond, MD, who oversees COVID-related care at Titus Regional Medical Center, believes it will take more than just doctors’ recommendations to move some patients to get the vaccine. The only thing that will motivate some will be contracting COVID, or knowing someone who does, he says.

“It’s clear that at least here in Texas, I swear man, you tell people they need to do something, and they just say, ‘Well, then I’m NOT going to do it,’” he says. “But once you’ve got COVID, the game becomes a whole lot more serious. And I think most people in the U.S. know someone who’s died from COVID at this point.”

Dr. Thurmond says that for some patients, stubborn resistance to legitimate medical advice persists -- on the vaccine and even treatment -- even after infection.

“We have seen more than one person avoid any medical care whatsoever after they knew they had COVID,” he says. “They languish in private and eventually come to the emergency room extremely sick and doing things with little to no medical value -- such as taking a friend’s hydroxychloroquine, random antibiotics, a horse de-worming dose of ivermectin, and gargling with Betadine and even bleach.”

But most of his patients who have the IV therapy take his advice to get the vaccine afterward.

“The only way to end the pandemic is to vaccinate everybody,” he says.

Dr. Adalja agrees.

“The monoclonal antibodies work, they are great drugs, so I think it is appropriate to praise them,” says Dr. Adalja, who’s given them to his own patients. “But it’s not appropriate to use them as an alternative to vaccination or to think, you know, don’t worry about the getting the vaccine because if you get infected and get the monoclonal antibodies to get through this -- that’s not the way to approach it.

He also worries about what he calls “dark-age mentalities” that have fueled the anti-vaccine movement, which has sought to heighten fears of modern medicine and doctors.

“The anti-vaccine movement has really capitalized on COVID-19, and it’s really a much more virulent form of the anti-vaccine movement than what we’ve seen with measles and other diseases in the past,” he notes. “And I think it’s going to be very difficult to contend with in the future, because no one thought we’d be battling the anti-vaccine movement this late in the pandemic.”

The biggest takeaway?

“When it comes to an infectious disease, prevention is always much better than treatment,” Dr. Adalja says. “If you don’t even need to get to the treatment stage because you prevent people from getting infected, that’s the goal.”

A version of this article first appeared on WebMD.com.


Recommended Reading

CDC chief overrules panel, OKs boosters for health care workers
The Hospitalist
COVID-19 a rare trigger for Guillain-Barré syndrome
The Hospitalist
Children and COVID: New cases topped 200,000 after 3 weeks of declines
The Hospitalist
COVID-19 hospitalization 80% more likely for smokers
The Hospitalist
Age, C-reactive protein predict COVID-19 death in diabetes
The Hospitalist
CVST after COVID-19 vaccine: New data confirm high mortality rate
The Hospitalist
COVID vaccine controversies: How can hospitalists help?
The Hospitalist
Antibody cocktail reduces chance of developing COVID
The Hospitalist
Tolerance in medicine
The Hospitalist
Pfizer COVID vaccine antibodies may disappear in 7 months, study says
The Hospitalist
   Comments ()