NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Department of Health is recommending medical providers in the state prioritize who receives the monoclonal antibody treatment due to the limited availability of the medicine in the state.

This comes as Tennessee has faced intense community spread of COVID-19 with a low vaccination rate.

Monoclonal antibody therapies, which have an emergency use authorization, are used to prevent hospitalization and severe disease in COVID-19 positive patients and are running thin in Tennessee.

“I think that does reflect the fact that here in Tennessee we have relatively low vaccination rates and so I think the state health department is trying to triage these supplies to locations that would be most beneficial,” Dr. Karen Bloch, director of Vanderbilt’s infusion clinic, said.

The Department of Health is recommending healthcare providers weigh who really needs the treatment with those who can live without it especially in the first few days of infection.

This includes guidance to prioritize the treatment of those who are most likely to be hospitalized, the unvaccinated, who are 11 times more likely to die than vaccinated individuals.

“That’s a pretty sobering statistic and so again I think with that in mind that anything we could do to prevent hospitalizations and people from becoming critically ill or even dying is really crucial at this point,” Bloch said.

In a statement to News 2 – the Department of Health said the following:

“Ultimately, this comes down to providers’ clinical judgment to ensure those most at risk are receiving this treatment.”

Bloch says the best thing you could do is to prevent infection in the first place and to get vaccinated.

“The vaccine is given before people ever get infected and out really prevents folks from getting sick. This is a salvage therapy and it’s a great option for folks who have mild to moderate illness, but again some small proportions of those are going to continue to become more ill and require hospitalization,” Bloch said.

Currently, 44% of Tennesseans are fully vaccinated.

Despite the supply issues, the Department of Health says, “providers across the state continue to receive supply of the treatment; however, [they] do not have an update on allocation for this week. “

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Vincent released a statement in response to the guidance:

“Once again, instead of leading the state of Tennessee out of the pandemic, Governor (Bill) Lee is pandering to extremists for political gains. To suggest withholding potentially life-saving antibody drugs from Tennesseans who have tried to protect themselves, their families and communities by being vaccinated is disingenuous and dangerous. 

“While it is true that the unvaccinated, as a group, are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 of the population, it’s the failure of the Lee administration to get people vaccinated that put them in that position and has us leading the nation in COVID infections. We don’t need the governor to try and pick and choose who gets critical medication.  We need a Governor who takes command and puts protecting people before politics.”