States to oversee distribution of antiviral drug under new Trump administration plan

The Trump administration has announced a new plan to distribute large quantities of the drug remdesivir — donated by pharmaceutical company Gilead — to states where the medication can be used to treat coronavirus patients, Politico reported.

Remdesivir is an antiviral drug that showed 31% faster recovery time in individuals infected with coronavirus, as well as a slightly lower death rate in patients treated with the medication. The drug was initially developed to treate ebola, but it was found to be ineffective for that purpose, according to Discover.

It has been used successfully to treat SARS and MERS, which are caused by other coronaviruses, however. The treatment plan for COVID-19 patients involves a 10-day course of IV infusion of the drug, which it itself presents problems, because it is most successful when given early in the infection cycle when people are not usually sick enough to seek hospital care.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved remdesivir as an emergency treatment for COVID-19 because of its apparent effectiveness, the Chicago Tribune reported. Gilead donated 607,000 vials of the medicine to the federal government, which will distribute it to states under this plan.

States to oversee distribution

Recent days have seen some controversy with regard to the distribution plan for remdesivir, with doctors and state officials complaining that especially hard-hit areas were not getting the drug, according to Politico.

The newly-announced plan is set to distribute the medicine to state health departments, letting them choose which hospitals will receive it.

The first shipment last week saw 565 cases go to hospitals in New York, 117 cases to Massachusetts, and 94 cases to New Jersey. Smaller volumes of the drug were dispatched to Indiana, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

Each case of remdesivir contains 40 vials of the drug, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported, according to Politico.

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force has been tapped to help with the distribution program, given her intimate knowledge of public health data and trends in different locations around the U.S., NBC News reported.

Working out the kinks

Officially, Gilead has said that it isn’t making decisions about which hospitals are sent doses of the drug, but Northwell Health in New York said that the pharmaceutical firm recommended that 23 hospitals in that particular healthcare system get the drug, and thousands of vials were indeed ultimately received, Politico reported.

The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) has officially requested information about the distribution plan for the medication after hospitals in hot spots like New York and Boston were denied access to remdesivir after making formal requests for it, according to The New York Times.

Overall, the numbers of new cases and deaths from the coronavirus continue to decline in many parts of the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as states begin to re-open businesses with social distancing measures in place, and the quest for effective treatments and a vaccine continues.

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