Arizona Gov. to allocate $60M to hospitals that offer COVID-19 vaccines, antibody treatments

Arizona's Governor spoke out Wednesday on the "heroic" efforts of healthcare workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic and announced his next step to help them become better equipped in the fight against the virus. 

Many hospitals recently reported being short-staffed, especially these last couple of months as the delta variant became rampant across the country and in Arizona.

As delta COVID-19 cases continue to surge, Gov. Doug Ducey is allotting an additional $60 million from federal virus relief funds to help hire 750 contract nurses. In order to get the money, hospitals need to offer COVID-19 vaccinations to patients when they are discharged and monoclonal antibody treatments.

The Arizona Department of Health Services will handle the contracts and, based on staffing data submitted by hospitals, assign the nurses.

Hospital eligibility will depend on them using "proven techniques" like COVID-19 antibody drugs and offering "vaccination at discharge," said Christina Corieri, a senior policy adviser to Ducey.

"Monoclonal antibodies is a tool that's been available for patient populations that have tested positive and had complications from COVID-19 disease and is something we have utilized here in the pandemic and is certainly a tool that we continue to utilize," said Dr. Michael White, Chief Clinical Officer with Valleywise Health.

Monoclonal antibodies help by blocking the virus' attachment and entry into human cells. White says these antibodies will prevent the virus from severely affecting a patient, thereby lowering the rate of hospitalizations.

"To be able to help prevent against that severe hospitalization and illness in those folks that we are afraid would have severe complications from COVID-19 disease," White said about health care providers' hope for the treatment.

While COVID-19 hospitalizations are not as high as they were earlier in the pandemic, White says in many cases hospitals are still severely short-staffed.

"The number of qualified healthcare professionals to deliver that bedside care is not what we saw in earlier phases of the pandemic so being able to have folks come in and assist with us in the care of these patients is welcome," White said.

The antibody treatment has been offered at several Arizona hospitals since 2020 and health officials say it's helped to prevent severe cases of COVID-19 complications. 

On May 26, the Food and Drug Administration said of the treatment: "Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for the investigational monoclonal antibody therapy sotrovimab for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older weighing at least 40 kilograms [about 88 pounds]) with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 viral testing and who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. This includes, for example, individuals who are 65 years of age and older or individuals who have certain medical conditions."

Ducey is one of several Republican governors who have been pushing for antibody treatments in the face of those who say mask and vaccine mandates are better solutions. Antibody treatments remain one of a handful of therapies that can blunt the worst effects of COVID-19, and they are the only option available to people with mild-to-moderate cases who aren’t yet in the hospital.

The drugs are only recommended for people at the highest risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, but the conditions to qualify have broadened. The list of conditions now includes: older age, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, pregnancy and more than a half-dozen other issues.

They have risen in demand in states seeing a spike in infections, including Florida, Louisiana and Texas, where hospitalizations among the unvaccinated are overwhelming the health care system.

Ducey is likely to draw criticism for offering federal funding that is tethered to conditions. He faced backlash last month for pressuring public school districts defying a state ban on mask mandates by making them ineligible for a $163 million school grant program. The program was also created using federal virus relief funds.

Senior policy advisor Corieri said there is nothing inappropriate about the way the funding is being doled out.

"There’s always been conditions on the staffing support," she said.

The funding announcement comes as Arizona continues to deal with a surge. The state on Wednesday reported 4,740 newly confirmed COVID-19 infections and 67 deaths. Though the numbers were higher than normal because of a data-processing issue on Tuesday.

This brings Arizona’s totals since the pandemic began to 1,016,633 cases and 18,853 deaths.

Hospitalizations continue to rise with 2,057 people hospitalized as of Tuesday.

MORE: Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

MORE: Find COVID-19 vaccine locations in your area

MORE: Maricopa County COVID-19 vaccine status updates

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