S.C. hospitals cope with shortage of promising COVID-19 drug

A shortage of a coronavirus drug is forcing some hospitals to go without it for days.
Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 5:21 AM EDT
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KINGSTREE, S.C. (WCSC) - The antiviral drug remdesivir has shown promise in speeding up the recovery time for COVID-19 patients in South Carolina and around the world. However, a shortage of the drug is forcing some hospitals to go without it for days.

While larger hospital systems like the Medical University of South Carolina and Roper St. Francis Healthcare use the drug, small hospitals like Williamsburg Regional Hospital in Kingstree have also been able to give it to COVID-19 patients.

“It being a small hospital and a small town, the peak of COVID peaked later here than other towns,” said Dr. Troy Gamble, who works at Williamsburg Regional Hospital.

His hospital is the only one in the county and it’s been at or near capacity for weeks.

“It’s a tough time,” he added.

Staff members at the hospital have borrowed ventilators from other hospitals in the area and often can’t use all 25 of their beds because of a nursing shortage. Despite these struggles, the hospital has been able to get remdesivir.

“Right now it’s the only anti-viral that fights the virus itself,” Gamble added.

One of the success stories comes from Gamble’s patient, Jott McGill, who was born and raised in Williamsburg County. McGill believes he contracted COVID-19 from his wife and after a few days he had to be hospitalized.

Gamble said McGill also contracted pneumonia in both lungs.

“When I starting coming down with the virus, it was terrible headaches, high fever, body aches, pain, sweats, chills, very uncomfortable,” McGill added “While in the hospital, I was given remdesivir and within 48 hours, I was responding to it. So that’s probably what saved me, and catching it early.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the drug for emergency use after it was shown to improve recovery times for COVID-19 patients.

“We felt really encouraged that finally we have an antiviral that seems to work in most cases, if we can get people early enough in the course,” Gamble said. “Now, later in the course when they get such bad pneumonia, nothing seems to work.”

Gamble said while the drug is promising, there is a concerning nationwide shortage.

It may be the most sought-after drugs on our pandemic-ridden planet: remdesivir, the only drug...
It may be the most sought-after drugs on our pandemic-ridden planet: remdesivir, the only drug shown to work against coronavirus and be authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (Source: CNN)

On the day he spoke with Live 5 News, the hospital ran out of the drug.

“We have already used our two-week allotment,” he said. “So I have to go now from Wednesday until next Monday before we’ll have any more Remdesivir. And that becomes critical when you have people who need it... the earlier they get it the better they do.”

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control manages the distribution of the drug. The latest numbers show DHEC has distributed 2,900 treatment courses across the state.

“It’s so new and only so much can be produced a day right now,” Gamble said. “The demand outstrips the supply, so it’s a very worrisome shortage right now.”

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