(HealthDay News) — It is the ultimate irony: More COVID-19 treatments exist now than at any other time during the pandemic, but the skyrocketing number of cases from the surging omicron variant might mean they cannot be accessed when needed most.
Doctors and health systems are again in the difficult position of rationing supplies to meet the needs of those in the most dire situations, The New York Times reported. Adding to the dilemma is that not all the infusions and pills meant to treat people with COVID-19 even work well against the omicron variant.
To deal with supply shortages, health care providers are developing algorithms to determine who gets treatment. Some providers are left with only a few dozen treatment courses for the patients yet to come through their door. Some are giving some patients vitamins instead of the authorized drugs. Among those being declined the treatments are those who are at high risk for complications but who have been vaccinated, The Times reported.
Employees are rushing to develop algorithms to help them ration their supplies with patients, while also dealing with staffing shortages, Kelly Gebo, M.D., an infectious diseases and epidemiology specialist at Johns Hopkins University, told The Times. “It’s demoralizing as health care workers when we can’t deliver optimal care when we have limited resources,” Gebo said.
Monoclonal antibodies, which are administered intravenously, have been the primary treatment for newly infected patients. The two most common types, however, do not appear to keep omicron at bay. The one monoclonal antibody that is effective against omicron, made by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, is in limited supply. The federal government has ordered only about 450,000 treatment courses, The Times reported. The United States did not immediately order supplies of that treatment when it was authorized last May because it already had a large supply of other antibody treatments.
Meanwhile, Paxlovid is a new, powerful antiviral pill from Pfizer that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized two weeks ago. But supplies of that drug are also scarce. Supplies of Paxlovid will not be plentiful until April, even though the Biden administration doubled its order this week. Large quantities of the treatment are only now becoming available because it takes eight months to produce the pills, The Times reported.