Coronavirus drug to be distributed to SC hospitals, but doctors still don’t know how much they will receive

Updated: May. 12, 2020 at 6:04 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - South Carolina hospitals are waiting to receive additional doses of a promising drug to treat COVID-19. The manufacturer of remdesivir, Gilead Sciences, has donated 607,000 vials of the drug to the United States Department of Health and Human Services. That's expected to treat 78,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The doses will be distributed to each state over the next six weeks, but the government hasn't said how much of the drug each state will receive.

Prisma Health Richland Hospital is currently participating in a remdesivir clinical trial, but doctors say they are worried that trial could end soon. Prisma Health says it’s unlikely they will receive enough remdesivir from the government to treat all of the patients in need. “We’re feeling around in the dark to figure out what exactly we need to do to get access to this drug," said Prisma Health Richland infectious disease physician, Edwin Hayes.

Hayes says remdesivir is at the top of the hospital's list when it comes to potential treatments for COVID-19, but less than half of the patients hospitalized for COVID-19 actually qualify for the remdesivir clinical trial because of the shortage.“It has been challenging to have patients come in that are sick and could potentially benefit from remdesivir, but not be able to enroll them in the study because they don’t necessarily meet the enrollment criteria," said Hayes.

Most patients who do qualify are severely ill and in need of supplemental oxygen. Prisma Health is hopeful they will receive some remdesivir from the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), but they still don’t know how much to expect. Julie Ann Justo is an infectious disease clinical pharmacist at Prisma Health Richland Hospital, and she says there is still no information available detailing how much of the drug each state will receive or when they will receive it. “We are hopeful that the process will be transparent, and it will be fair. We understand that there is a limited supply, and so we will do the best that we can locally to allocate this supply that we do receive to the patients that need it most," Justo explained.

Both clinicians are concerned distribution could be based on state size or number of cases, and South Carolina ranks relatively low in both categories. “While we may not have the same proportion of patients who are sick at the moment, we certainly have people who are severely ill and dying from COVID-19, who potentially could benefit from remdesivir. So, we think for each individual patient, there could be justification for them to get the drug,” Hayes said.

Justo and Hayes are also asking the federal government to supply a list detailing how much remdesivir each state will receive. They say this will help them know how much to anticipate at their hospitals. It will also help them explain to patients and their families why they may or may not be able to receive the drug.

Remdesivir is still not FDA approved, and Prisma Health says it can’t speak to the drug’s effectiveness because they haven’t been able to test it on enough patients. However, doctors say it is promising.

Prisma Health expects to hear from DHEC regarding allotment of the drug in South Carolina this week.

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