Coronavirus News Roundup: Inhaler Shortages, Updates on Potential Treatments

March 27, 2020

Here’s a roundup of the latest coronavirus-related news from this week. 

This week was witness to a serious upswing in the exponential growth curve of COVID-19–a pandemic that began in wildlife markets in Wuhan, China–in the United States and worldwide.

The United States now has more confirmed cases of COVID-19 than any other nation, including China and Italy, with more than 80,000 cases that have been reported.  

Here’s a roundup of the latest coronavirus-related news:

Growing Shortage of Albuterol Inhalers Due to COVID-19, ACAAI Advises

Due to the increased need for albuterol inhalers in hospitals for COVID-19, shortages have been occurring in some areas of the country and will likely continue to affect supplies, the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) cautioned.

Albuterol inhalers are indicated for the treatment or prevention of bronchospasm in patients with reversible obstructive airway disease. Because of COVID-19 there has been increased allocation of albuterol inhalers for patients with or suspected to have COVID-19 infection due to concerns that nebulizers may help spread the virus in the air in hospitals.  

The ACAAI suggested practical recommendations for patients who use albuterol inhalers.

  • First, don’t panic. Check your inhaler to make sure it still has medicine.

  • If necessary, you can likely use your expired albuterol inhaler as it is probably still at least partially effective.

  • If you can’t get a refill on your metered dose inhaler, contact your allergist or health care provider as there are other options available which they can prescribe.

  • It is important that you not overuse your albuterol inhaler, as one canister should last for months.

Pharmacists can help pass along information to patients with asthma who may be affected by shortages.

Protecting Children from COVID-19 Critical for Flattening the Curve

A study found that the virus stayed in children’s stool for several weeks following diagnosis; nasal secretions also contributed to facilitated transmission of COVID-19, and children’s families should take heed of all methods of transmission, even if their children are asymptomatic.

Eli Lilly Offers Drive-Through COVID-19 Testing for Indianapolis Health Care Workers

Eli Lilly and Company announced on Sunday that it will be providing drive-through screenings for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the novel coronavirus, to health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. This includes physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and allied health care professionals.

Lopinavir-Ritonavir Shows No Substantial Benefit for Patients with COVID-19

Lopinavir-ritonavir treatment showed no benefit in hospitalized adult patients with severe COVID-10, according to results from a clinical study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

CVS Caremark Sets Limits on Off-Label Treatments for COVID-19

CVS Caremark is setting limits on the quantities of certain medications being used off label to treat COVID-19 symptoms.

The pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) will set new “appropriate” limits on the quantity of hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) and azithromycin (Zithromax Z-Pak), along with 1 protease inhibitor and albuterol inhalers.

However, CVS Caremark members who already take the treatments-which are approved for the treatment of lupus, bacterial infections, HIV, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma-can bypass the new quantity limits.

CVS Caremark is “working with clients to implement new measures to balance the burgeoning interest in off-label use of certain medicines to treat COVID-19 pneumonia with the ongoing needs of members who use these drugs for chronic conditions,” the PBM said in a press release.

AMA, APhA, ASHP Issue Joint Statement on Use of Medications to Treat COVID-19

In a joint statement, the American Medical Association (AMA), American Pharmacists Association (APhA), and American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) have communicated concerns regarding the inappropriate ordering, prescribing, or dispensing of treatments for COVID-19.

The AMA, APhA, and ASHP collectively applaud the selflessness of health care professionals during the COVID-19 crisis, and alternatively caution against providers “prophylactically prescribing medications currently identified as potential treatments for COVID-19 for themselves, their families, or their colleagues,” noting that “some pharmacies and hospitals have been purchasing excessive amounts of these medications in anticipation of potentially using them for COVID-19 prevention and treatment.”

New Treatment Approach Proposed for Respiratory Distress in COVID-19

Research suggests that repurposing a drug used to treat blood clots may help patients with severe COVID-19 in acute respiratory distress, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery.

The drug, a protein called tissue plasminogen activator, which is used to treat patients with heart attack and stroke, may serve as an alternative approach in cases where a ventilator is not helping or is unavailable.

Beth Israel Deaconess, the University of Colorado Anschultz Medical Campus, and Denver Health are planning to test this approach.