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The antiviral remdesivir, an intravenous drug given mostly to seriously ill COVID-19 patients in hospitals, could keep unvaccinated people who become infected out of the hospital if given on an outpatient basis, a new study says.
Researchers studied 562 unvaccinated people from September 2020 to April 2021, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study determined the risk of hospitalization or death was 87% lower in study participants who were given remdesivir than participants who received a placebo.
All participants were at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 because of their age — they were over 60 — or because they had an underlying medical condition such as diabetes or obesity.
An important caveat: The findings are based on data collected before the Delta variant surged last summer or the Omicron variant surged late this year, The Washington Post reported.
The new study says the drug could be helpful in keeping vaccinated as well as unvaccinated people out of the hospital — an important factor as the Omicron surge threatens to overwhelm health systems around the world.
Remdesivir could be a boon for COVID-19 patients in parts of the world that don’t have vaccines or for patients with immunocompromised systems.
“These data provide evidence that a 3-day course of remdesivir could play a critical role in helping COVID-19 patients stay out of the hospital,” Robert L. Gottlieb, MD, PhD, the therapeutic lead for COVID-19 research at Baylor Scott & White Health in Dallas, said in a news release from Gilead Pharmaceuticals.
“While our hospitals are ready to assist patients in need, prevention and early intervention are preferable to reduce the risk of disease progression and allow patients not requiring oxygen to recover from home when appropriate.”
Remdesivir was the first antiviral for COVID-19 authorized by the FDA. It was given to then-President Donald Trump when he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in October 2020.
Gilead released the study findings in September.
New England Journal of Medicine: “Early Remdesivir to Prevent Progression to Severe Covid-19 in Outpatients.”
Washington Post: “Remdesivir can help keep unvaccinated, high-risk people with covid-19 out of hospitals, study finds.”
Gilead Pharmaceuticals: “Gilead Announces New England Journal of Medicine Publication of Data Demonstrating Veklury® (Remdesivir) Significantly Reduced Risk of Hospitalization in High-Risk Patients With COVID-19.”