GREENVILLE, S.C. (WSPA) – The World Health Organization is giving the green light for two arthritis drugs to treat those suffering from severe COVID-19.
Tocilizumab and Sarilumab are known as interleukin-6 receptors. The World Health Organization reports the drugs can be life-saving when it comes to patients who are severely ill with COVID-19, especially when administered alongside corticosteroids.
Doctor Dawn Zellner at Bon Secours said the coronavirus should be thought of in two phases.
“The phases are the infectious phase where you have a big viral load, and that’s where you feel feverish. That’s the first week,” Dr. Zellner explained.
The second phase, she said comes seven to 10 days later. She explained that’s usually when oxygen levels drop and considered the inflammatory phase.
“This medication is thought to treat that inflammatory process that is going on, that is causing the problems in the lungs, the problems with the heart, the problems with blood clots, the problems with the nervous system, that happen while people are hospitalized,” Dr. Zellner said. “We tried using them early in the pandemic as part of all of those different drugs like with Remdesivir, and Decadron, and we weren’t using them at the right time because we didn’t understand that sort of bi-modal phasing of COVID.”
Now doctors at Saint Francis believe they have a better idea of when to use the drug.
“And once we started to understand that better, we understood that this drug could be important in the inflammatory phase just like steroids. But can be harmful in that infectious phase just like steroids,” she added. “It is being used in very limited populations and only if you are in the ICU— if you have lung damage, or you’re on a ventilator, you have kidney failure, you’re having heart problems.”
Zellner said it’s a team effort decision on when to administer.
“We use it at St. Francis on our sickest COVID patients. There are a few parameters that have to be followed about who can prescribe the drug and who gets the drug, but that process starts in the Emergency Department and this is in collaboration with multiple physicians speaking about whether or not to give this medication,” said Zellner.
The W.H.O. reported studies of critically ill patients showed that administering these drugs can reduce the odds of death by 13-percent.
But Zellner insists it’s not as effective as a vaccination.
“Your vaccination status is going to help prevent hospitalization and death. It’s 95-percent effective. So that’s not 100-percent. So some people will get sick and very few people will get hospitalized. The risk is very low,” she said. “But, if you are hospitalized for COVID, post-vaccination, and a full series of vaccination is what I’m talking about… Then this drug could be used. You would be treated just like you’re a COVID patient who was un-vaccinated.”
South Carolina’s health department says data collected over a two-week period shows the majority of people hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 are not fully vaccinated.
According to a recent release, DHEC performed an analysis of newly reported cases, deaths, and hospitalizations in South Carolina from June 1st to June 14th. That analysis shows:
- Of the 1,635 newly reported cases for which we were able to determine the individuals’ vaccine status, 1,540 cases – or 94% of those new cases – were not fully vaccinated.
- Of the 92 reported cases that required hospitalization and for which we were able to determine vaccine status, 83 of those individuals – or 90.2% – were not fully vaccinated.
“And the most sobering datapoint of all… We learned that of the 11 people who were reported with death from COVID-19 during that same two-week period, for whom we knew the vaccine status, all 11 individuals, 100-percent of them were not fully vaccinated,” said Assistant State Epidemiologist, Dr. Jane Kelly.