Bay Area Hospitals Say Remdesivir is in Short Supply

One vial of the antiviral drug remdesivir. (Ulrich Perrey/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Remdesivir, the intravenous antiviral drug made by Foster City's Gilead Sciences, is currently the only medicine shown in trials to effectively treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients, reducing the median length of hospital stays by about four days. But some Bay Area hospitals say the supply is barely keeping up with demand.

Dr. Lukejohn Day, chief medical officer at Zuckerberg San Fransisco General Hospital (ZSFG) says the hospital ran out of remdesivir last week.

"It's not like some medications where we have them in stock or if we run out the stock we can order it and it could be FedEx'd overnight or within two days," Day said. "We don't have that type of access with this drug."

Instead, Day says local hospitals report their COVID-19 cases to the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and are notified about every two weeks how much remdesivir they can purchase through AmerisourceBergen, a third-party distributor.

In late June, Gilead signed an agreement with HHS to provide roughly half-a-million remdesivir treatment courses for distribution to U.S. hospitals over the next three months.

Day says ZSFG is expecting another shipment soon and hasn't, as of yet, had to deny hospitalized patients who meet the requirements for treatment with the drug.

"If cases were to surge up again," Day said, "it could be potentially harmful."

The scarcity of remdesivir, Day says, is hitting other parts of the state even harder. "I definitely know that there is a shortage out there across several counties within California," he said. "We've given some to other counties, but have not been able to give as much as we would like."

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Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at UC San Francisco, says the hospital is also maxing out its allotment of remdesivir.

"Every morning I wake up with palpitations because I don't know if we're going to have enough," he said.

At UCSF and other San Francisco hospitals, remdesivir is currently reserved for patients who require supplemental oxygen or a ventilator.

"Right now we have enough, but barely," Chin-Hong said.

COVID-19 hospitalizations at UCSF have tripled over the past month, according to Chin-Hong. The surge, he says, has prompted his team to start asking hard questions about how to prioritize the drug if the trend continues.

"Say three people needed it and we only had enough for one, how do you make that decision?" Chin-Hong said.

"In the ideal world," he added, "probably 100 percent of [hospitalized] people would be on remdesivir."