Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Monday an “amazing deal” reached by the Trump administration to purchase nearly all of Gilead’s supply of the antiviral drug remdesivir through September. Other countries, which now won’t have access to one of two proven treatments for COVID-19 for three months, did not see the deal as so amazing, at least not in the sense Azar meant.
The U.S. “got access to most of the drug supply, so there’s nothing for Europe,” Dr. Andrew Hill, a research fellow at Liverpool University, told The Guardian. “Imagine this was a vaccine,” he added. “That would be a firestorm. But perhaps this is a taste of things to come.”
Azar said the U.S. has reserved 100 percent of Gilead’s remdesivir production in July and 90 percent in August and September, for a total of about 500,000 doses. “To the extent possible, we want to ensure that any American patient who needs remdesivir can get it,” Azar said. Each treatment course requires an average of 6.25 vials of remdesivir at a cost of $3,200, HHS said. In other developed countries, Gilead announced, a course of treatment will cost nearly $1,000 less, or $2,340.
The U.S. has the world’s worst confirmed COVID-19 outbreak by far — 2.6 million of the world’s 10.5 million confirmed cases, 127,000 of 512,000 confirmed deaths — and the disease is not under control. But “the U.S. has taken an ‘America first’ attitude throughout the global pandemic,” The Guardian says, trying to negotiate exclusive rights to a German vaccine and briefly securing first dibs on another vaccine from French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi — before Germany and France, respectively, stepped in.
Remdesivir, developed to fight Ebola (unsuccessfully), has been shown to reduce hospital stays for COVID-19 patients with severe cases. The only other treatment found to be effective is the steroid dexamethasone, which reduced the number of deaths by up to a third in a British study. “There has been no attempt to buy up the world’s stocks of dexamethasone because there is no need,” The Guardian notes: “The drug is 60 years old, cheap, and easily available everywhere.” Peter Weber