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Montana To Receive COVID-19 Drug Treatment

Next week, Montana hospitals are expected to receive hundreds more doses of an antiviral drug being used to treat COVID-19 patients. YPR News’ Kevin Trevellyan reports.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is sending 24 cases of remdesivir to Montana, enough for roughly 150 standard treatment courses.

Dr. Joshua Christensen, an infectious disease physician at Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula, is relieved at the incoming shipment, but warns the drug isn’t a silver bullet.

“It’s effectiveness is modest. It’s all we really have at this point, but it’s by no means a cure," Christensen said.

Christensen stresses that he’s speaking for himself, not his hospital.

The FDA gave emergency authorization to use remdesivir on COVID-19 patients in May. Early studies suggest the drug can shorten a patient’s recovery time by preventing the virus from replicating inside the body.

Drugmaker Gilead Sciences donated Montana’s initial 20 remdesivir cases starting in May. Dr. Maggie Cook-Shimanek with the state Department of Public Health and Human Services says the incoming supply will cost around $3,200 per course.

She says state health officials are determining which hospitals are interested in purchasing cases from the upcoming shipment, which were allocated upon a comparison of state hospitalization rates across the U.S.

State Medical Officer Dr. Greg Holzman says remdesivir supplies have so far outpaced demand in Montana, though it’s difficult to determine how long the new shipment will last.

“There’s been a lot more requests for remdesivir recently with the increased number of cases and hospitalizations," Holzman said.

As of July 24, Montana has more than 1,170 active COVID-19 cases, including 56 hospitalizations, according to state data.

Though he hasn’t yet had to deny anyone treatment because of supply, Christensen, the St. Pat’s physician, is worried the upcoming remdesivir shipment won’t be enough if Montana’s case totals continue to rise as they have the last several weeks.

“I just think looking at what’s happening in other states and their shortages, if we get as busy as I fear we will, I think we’re going to run out of it. Or at least have to ration it," Christensen.

Christensen says hospitals have so far been collegial and shared remdesivir supplies when one location runs out.

State Medical Officer Holzman expects Montana will receive more commercial remdesivir shipments in the future.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America statehouse reporter.