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Mass. Health Officials Distribute COVID-19 Drug To Hospitals

In this March 2020 photo provided by Gilead Sciences, rubber stoppers are placed onto filled vials of the investigational drug remdesivir at a Gilead manufacturing site in the United States. (Gilead Sciences via AP)
In this March 2020 photo provided by Gilead Sciences, rubber stoppers are placed onto filled vials of the investigational drug remdesivir at a Gilead manufacturing site in the United States. (Gilead Sciences via AP)

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has distributed an experimental COVID-19 drug to nearly 40 hospitals around the state, following chaotic initial deliveries by the federal government to only four facilities last week.

Massachusetts General Hospital — which was among the initial four and has the highest number of COVID-19 patients in the commonwealth — urged the state to take action. The Department of Public Health has now divvied up the May 5 delivery of remdesivir from the federal government, and a second shipment May 9.

Mass General was provided 384 doses, and Boston Medical Center — which had at first been left out — has received 336 doses. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston got 282 doses, and smaller hospitals in hard-hit places also received the drug. Brockton Hospital, for instance, received 108, and Morton Hospital in Taunton — which has converted to a COVID-19 facility — got 90 doses.

In the western part of the state, Baystate Medical Center in Springfield has received 138 doses.

The drug, which is still under investigation, is being donated worldwide by its maker, Gilead Sciences Inc. The pharmaceutical giant, based in Foster City, Calif., is donating 1.5 million doses around the world.

However, doctors still don't know to what extent remdesivir could save lives. In a trial, it has shown some people hospitalized and seriously ill with COVID-19 recovered more quickly. But it's receiving widespread attention because it's the first drug that's offered any hope so far. Remdesivir is still in trials, including at Boston Medical Center.

Now doctors, still facing thousands of COVID-19 patients in Massachusetts and around the country, must weigh who gets the drug, and under what circumstances.

The state Department of Public Health has said the criteria should be "as clear, transparent, and objective as possible, and be based on biological factors related only to the likelihood and magnitude of benefit from the medical resources," and should at all times strive to be fair and equitable to all patients.

Related:

Beth Healy Twitter Investigative Reporter
Beth Healy is an investigative reporter for WBUR.

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