Gainesville Fire Rescue launches mobile COVID treatment program

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A mobile option for COVID treatment recently launched in Alachua County as many states across the U.S report cases of the omicron variant.

The Community Resource Paramedicine program, which is made up of Gainesville Fire Rescue employees and interns, launched a mobile monoclonal antibody therapy service, called the Regeneron program, in early December.

The program will provide REGEN-COV, a Regeneron antibody therapy, which was received from the Department of Health in late November, according to Rossana Passaniti, a public information officer for the City of Gainesville.

Alachua County residents who have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are at high risk of contracting the virus are able to reach out to Gainesville Fire Rescue to inquire about receiving the treatment, which can be administered to them at no cost and in their own homes.

Individuals must be at least 12 years old and weigh 40 kilograms, or about 88 pounds, to be eligible. The treatment is not intended for people who are hospitalized already or require oxygen therapy or mechanical ventilation due to COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies can be associated with worse clinical outcomes when administered to hospitalized patients, according to a fact sheet on REGEN-COV provided by the U.S Food and Drug Administration.

“Monoclonal antibody treatment is not an FDA approved treatment,” Passaniti said. “It is a synthetic treatment against COVID, so there are very specific criteria for eligibility.”

REGEN-COV was developed from a mammalian line of cells called Chinese Hamster Ovary, or CHO, cells. The cells are modified in a lab, and the proteins derived from them mimic the immune system’s ability to stave off the virus causing coronavirus disease.

The administration approved the treatment in August for emergency use on patients only after exposure to the virus.

Community Resource Paramedicine

The CRP program is made up of a team of full-time resource technicians, firefighter paramedics and a group of about 20 undergraduate University of Florida students who serve as interns and in other various roles. CRP resource technicians are trained EMTs with backgrounds in social services while paramedics work for CRP solely on an overtime pay basis. There are 219 patients enrolled in the program as of December, according to a CRP newsletter from this month.

The group works to connect patients to community health resources, and their latest feat is the Regeneron program, according to Kamelia Klejc, interim program coordinator for the CRP program.

A majority of 911 calls received by Gainesville Fire Rescue are medical related, Klejc said.

“People think ‘like firefighter and fire department, they’re going on fire calls,’” she said. “But, just so you know, everybody that works for GFR for example has to be certified as an EMT or a paramedic.”

GFR averaged about 19,690 calls for service a year from 2018 to 2020, and while the numbers from 2020 aren’t far off from other years, Klejc said COVID has impacted how they work.

“I think that with COVID-19, our workload really increased specifically in public health and community health,” Klejc said. “We took on a lot of responsibility in terms of helping trying to reduce the spread of COVID.”

Mobile COVID Services

GFR’s community resource paramedicine team began providing mobile COVID testing for vulnerable populations in May of 2020, and in January of this year they launched mobile COVID-19 vaccinations, according to Klejc.

“So, I think that the monoclonal treatment just takes it to the next level as another risk reduction method,” Klejc said.

Klejc said that while the treatment is not fully FDA approved, she sees it as a great option for preventing patients from reaching severe symptomatic states and needing to be hospitalized.

Options for treatment around Gainesville formerly included a clinic located at the Fellowship Church in High Springs that closed last month.

“(Treatment options) were really located in the very rural areas of Alachua County so they were really hard for a lot of people, especially our patient population, to access,” Klejc said. “So the goal with our treatment, the monoclonal therapy program, is for us to be able to come to the patient.”

While the CRP program predominantly serves patients within Gainesville city limits, the treatment can be brought to other parts of Alachua County with coordination from Alachua County Fire Rescue, Klejc said.

While the program has not yet administered the monoclonal antibody treatment to any patients, Klejc said that CRP team members are bracing for a possible omicron-generated surge in demand for COVID-related services.

“I would say a few months ago the demand kind of decreased a little bit so I think with the new variant it’s going to go back to kind of where we were at earlier this year and at the end of 2020,” she said. “So, I think that we’re just going to have to rely really heavily on our staff and hopefully we’ll get some more hands into our team that can continue to fight this thing.”

To inquire about receiving the monoclonal antibody treatment through Gainesville Fire Rescue, residents can call the GFR mainline or reach out to Kamelia Klejc, the interim program coordinator for the CRP program by calling (352) 339-6375.

About Julia Cooper

Julia is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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