May 10, 2020 - A few hundred cases of the antiviral drug remdesivir were shipped to a handful of states this week, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Saturday. The drug will be used to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients in hotspot areas, according to the news release.
The drug manufacturer, Gilead Sciences, said it would donate 1.5 million vials after the FDA issued an emergency use authorization on May 1.
The first allocation went to seven states: Indiana (38 cases), Massachusetts (117 cases), New Jersey (94 cases), New York (565 cases), Rhode Island (30 cases), Tennessee (7 cases), and Virginia (33 cases). Each case contains 40 vials.
On May 7, a second allocation was sent to six states: Connecticut (30 cases), Illinois (140), Iowa (10), Maryland (30), Michigan (40), and New Jersey (110).
In clinical trials, remdesivir seemed to shorten the recovery time by a few days. The data didn't show whether the drug improved symptoms or decreased the chance of dying from COVID-19.
The drug has been used in the past to treat Ebola. It also has shown promise in animals for treating SARS and MERS, federal health officials said.
The cases are shipped to state health departments, which will then distribute the doses to hospitals. To receive doses, patients must be on ventilators or supplemental oxygen, according to the statement.
Of the 1.5 million vials, Gilead committed to providing more than 600,000 to the U.S. during the next 6 weeks to treat about 78,000 hospitalized patients, according to the statement. The department plans to deliver cases to all 50 states, U.S. territories, the Veterans Health Administration and the Indian Health Service.
In Michigan, the vials have arrived, but the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is determining how to distribute the drug, according to MLive. The 40 cases will help about 145 patients.
New Jersey is also working with the state's 71 hospitals on a “distribution plan that will be equitable and consistent to where the greatest need is,” the state's Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said Saturday, according to NJ.com.
Although not listed in the allocations above, New Mexico will receive a shipment on Monday, according to CBS affiliate KRQE. Sen. Martin Heinrich made an announcement about the shipment on Saturday “after weeks of frustrating delays.”
Other states have expressed concerns about the distributions. North Texas hospitals voiced a need for the drug, according to ABC affiliate WFAA. Others have called for an explanation of how cases are distributed since an official plan wasn't announced, according to Politico.
During a press briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Deborah Birx, MD, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, would head the distribution. The Department of Health and Human Services announcement about an allocation plan came out a day later.
“I spoke with Dr. Birx about this. She's going to be working and consulting as to where this drug should go,” McEnany said Friday. “She really has the best grasp as to how that should be distributed, so she will be one of the chief consultants as to how that drug is distributed.”