KINGSTREE, S.C. (WCSC) - The anti-viral drug, Remdesivir, has shown great promise to speed 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,” Dr. Troy Gamble, who works at Williamsburg Regional Hospital, said.
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 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 the anti-viral drug, 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 anti-viral 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 nation-wide shortage.
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 (DHEC) manages the distribution of the drug. The latest numbers show DHEC has distributed 2,900 treatment courses around the state. More than 450 treatment courses have gone to the Lowcountry since May.
“It’s so new and only so much can be produced a day right now. The demand outstrips the supply, so it’s a very worrisome shortage right now,” said Gamble.
While he’s seen patients recover using the drug, Gamble has also lost patients to COVID-19 and said his staff are working overtime to treat as many patients as they can.
“Jott made a beautiful recovery and we’re happy to have him with us here today doing so well,” Gamble said.
People in Williamsburg County have also stepped up to raise money for the hospital. Money raised so far has gone to the purchase of intubation shields, glass doors for the COVID-19 unit and two more ventilators.
“The excellent healthcare here, and catching it in time, and the drug Remdesivir are the reason I’m here today,” McGill said.
Live 5 News reached out to other hospitals around the state to find out how they are using Remdesivir.
Doctors at Roper St. Francis Healthcare say while there is a nation-wide shortage, they have had enough on hand for patients who need it. A doctor at MUSC is a key contributor in a Remdesivir advisory committee put together by DHEC and the South Carolina Hospital Association. That committee has helped with the drug distribution process to hospitals around the state.
A spokesperson with DHEC said they do not currently track the individual outcomes for each patient who’s received the drug but they are working with hospitals around the state to get accurate data about patient outcomes.