Michigan distributes donated doses of COVID-19 medicine remdesivir

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Michigan's health department has distributed donated doses of the antiviral drug remdesivir to medical centers with the "sickest" COVID-19 patients, but the state's top medical official says it needs more of the medicine, which is in short supply.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, chief medical executive for Michigan, said the state received "a very small amount" of the medicine over the weekend and shipped it to a subset of hospitals that have seen the "largest burden" of deaths from COVID-19 and the sickest patients.

"To be clear, while we do not know yet if this medication definitely works and we don't yet know the full safety profile, we do want any potential treatments to be accessible to patients in Michigan as they battle this disease," Khaldun said Monday during a press briefing in Lansing. 

Remdesivir is the only treatment for COVID-19, approved for emergency use this month by regulators after a federal clinical trial showed it to be effective.

Officials said Michigan received 40 cases of remdesivir Saturday, as part of an allocation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to six hard-hit states. The shipment was enough for 145 patient courses. 

"Unfortunately, we did not receive enough from the federal government to be able to send this medication to every hospital in the state, and we hope that we will soon receive more," Khaldun said. 

"However, this is definitely one potential therapy that we are glad to make available to some patients here in Michigan."

Khaldun did not say how many Michigan hospitals received the donated medicine. 

Michigan has recorded nearly 4,600 deaths linked to the coronavirus — the fourth most of any U.S. state.

Remdesivir is the only treatment for COVID-19, approved for emergency use this month by regulators after a federal clinical trial showed it to be effective.

The drug’s maker, Gilead Sciences, is donating about 607,000 vials of the drug to the U.S. over the next six weeks — enough to treat 78,000 hospitalized patients, federal officials said.

The nation was nearing 80,000 deaths from the illness on Monday, according to tracking by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.

Each case of remdesivir that Michigan received Saturday contained 40 single-dose vials for a total 1,600 doses, representing 145 patient courses based on a 10-day course, said Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Khaldun stressed Monday that much remains unknown about COVID-19, and that no one is immune. 

"There's no vaccine, and there's no scientifically proven treatment," she said. "It can affect people of all ages, and scientists and doctors are still learning about both the short- and the long-term impacts of this disease. So this is very, very serious."

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun is chief medical executive of Michigan

The federal government last week began shipping cases of remdesivir donated by Gilead, but Michigan was not among the seven states to receive the initial allocation.

The largest shipments went to New York (565 cases), Massachusetts (117 cases) and New Jersey (94 cases), HHS said. Indiana, Rhode Island, Virginia and Tennessee also received medicine, with each getting fewer than 40 cases as part of the initial allocation.

The medical community raised alarms last week after the government's initial hospital shipments, which seemed uneven and somewhat random.

Some medical centers with no COVID-positive patients received shipments, while the University of Michigan’s health system and others with dozens of COVID patients were initially denied doses, said Dr. Daniel Kaul, an infectious disease specialist at Michigan Medicine.

Michigan Medicine, which had 69 COVID inpatients on Monday, over the weekend received enough donated remdesivir via the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services for nine patients, spokeswoman Kelly Malcom said Monday. 

Ruthanne Sudderth, spokeswoman for the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services overnight requested data from Michigan hospitals and health systems that will affect how that agency distributes remdesivir. 

It was unclear whether the data request went to every Michigan hospital or a subset, she added.