Washington, December 18
US health officials are seeing an astonishing lack of demand for COVID-19 medicines that may help keep infected people out of the hospital, drugs they rushed out to states over the past few weeks as deaths set new records.
Red tape, staff shortages, testing delays and strong skepticism are keeping many patients and doctors from these drugs, which supply antibodies to help the immune system fight the coronavirus. Only 5 per cent to 20 per cent of doses the federal government allocated have been used.
Ironically, government advisers met Wednesday and Thursday to plan for the opposite problem: potential future shortages of the drug as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Many hospitals have set up lottery systems to ration what is expected to be a limited supply, even after taking into account the unused medicines still on hand.
Only 337,000 treatment courses are available and there are 200,000 new COVID-19 cases a day, “so the supply certainly cannot meet the demand,” said Dr. Victor Dzau, president of the National Academy of Medicine, whose experts’ panel met to discuss the drugs.
Antibodies are made by the body’s immune system to fight the virus but it can take several weeks after infection for the best ones to form. The drugs aim to help right away, by supplying concentrated doses of one or two antibodies that worked best in lab tests. The government is providing them for free, but there’s sometimes a fee for the IV required to administer the drugs.
Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have emergency authorization to supply their antibody drugs while studies continue. But the medicines must be used within 10 days of the onset of symptoms to do any good. Confusion over where to find the drugs and delays in coronavirus test results have conspired to keep many away. — AP