GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A University of Florida Health pilot program is planning to bring a new COVID-19 monoclonal antibody therapy to rural communities in North Florida during the coming weeks, the university announced Tuesday.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services selected UF Health and the UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute to coordinate the distribution and administration of 1,000 doses of bamlanivimab to eligible residents in rural North Florida communities, including those in Columbia County.

The program is part of the White House’s Operation Warp Speed initiative.

“The goal of the program is to make sure that people living in rural communities have access to the latest COVID-19 therapies and important health information about COVID-19 therapeutics, testing and vaccines,” Duane Mitchell, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UF CTSI, who is leading the collaborative effort to coordinate UF Health’s distribution and administration of the treatments with community education and awareness, said in a press release.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for bamlanivimab on Nov. 10 after clinical trials showed it may help lessen the severity of the disease and reduce the need for hospitalization in people most at risk of developing severe COVID-19, the university said.

UF Health will offer the treatment free of charge to adults ages 65 and older within 10 days of a positive COVID-19 test, and to younger adults with obesity, diabetes, heart disease or other chronic health problems that increase their risk of developing severe disease or hospitalization. Patients hospitalized as a result of COVID-19 are not eligible to receive the treatment.

The pilot program, which will be offered in Columbia County and surrounding rural communities first and later expanded to other counties, with private support from the Sarasota-based Louis and Gloria Flanzer Philanthropic Trust with a $250,000 contribution.

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