DES MOINES, Iowa — The FDA has given the green light to a drug that could help treat patients with COVID-19, but most people in Iowa and across the country won’t be able to get it right now.
“At this time, Iowa has received 400 vials of Remdesivir,” said Sarah Reisetter, deputy director of the Iowa Department of Public Health.
State Rep. John Forbes is also a pharmacist in Urbandale and says Remdesivir is not new. “It was originally designed for Ebola and they found it wasn’t effective for that, so they put it on the shelf and they are bringing it back now for COVID-19,” Forbes said.
Gilead is manufacturing the intravenous drug and providing it at no cost after the FDA approved its use on May 1. “It slows down the replication of the virus when it enters our body,” said Forbes.
Iowa hospitals are quickly putting protocols in place for its use. Andy Miesner is an associate professor of pharmacy practice at Drake University and a spent Tuesday afternoon writing Remdesivir protocol for Broadlawns Medical Center in Des Moines.
“Try to decide who would be in the best position to use the drug, not only from a patient perspective, but also a physician perspective,” said Miesner. Patients typically need between six to 11 doses of the drug.
“They sent us about enough medication to treat 40 to 50 patients here in the state of Iowa,” said Forbes. “I would assume most of the patients to get the medication are the most severely ill and people on ventilators right now.”
Miesner says tests earlier this year weren’t optimistic. “The scientific and health care community is still waiting to see what the fuss is about because the initial studies out of China did not show that there was a major benefit.”
However, a clinical trial at the University of Nebraska provided some hope. Forbes said, “It’s not a cure, but in most cases the studies show it reduces their hospital stay by about four days.”
The possibility of getting Iowans back to work nearly a full work week sooner could be why Iowa is just one of six states with Remdesivir.
“They want to make sure our workers here in Iowa can get back to work fast and able to provide that safety net for food production here in the United States and the globe,” said Forbes.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is providing 14,400 vials to state health departments. Iowa’s will be distributed by the state’s hygienic lab.