Hospitals testing new treatments as they await vaccine
Tidelands Health will soon be vaccinating a portion of its workforce against COVID-19.
“We are encouraged by the progress on a safe, effective vaccine for COVID-19,” said Dr. Gerald Harmon, vice president of medical affairs for Tidelands. “An approved COVID-19 vaccine would greatly help our efforts in battling this virus. It will take time for the vaccine to be widely distributed, but we are eager to take this crucial step in our ongoing battle with this virus.”
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee is expected to give emergency approval to a vaccine today, after which it will be distributed to states.
South Carolina is only allowing the vaccine to be given to health care workers for now.
Gayle Resetar, chief operating officer of Tidelands, expects to get enough doses from the state to give to 5 percent of Tidelands’ workforce.
“There won’t be enough vaccine to do our whole workforce or do any part of the community,” Resetar said. “It’s a very limited quantity in the first round.”
Tidelands workers will have to meet the criteria established by the state to receive the vaccine, and vaccination will be voluntary.
Resetar does not expect a vaccine to be available to the general public any time soon.
“I think it will be well into the summer before we are getting enough vaccine approved and produced in the country to start to get some real general population numbers,” she said.
Tidelands has already been testing two COVID treatments, remdesivir and bamlanivimab, on patients.
Remdesivir is an anti-viral treatment that attacks COVID-19.
“It treats an active, badly infected patient in an in-patient setting,” Harmon said.
Bamlanivimab is for COVID-19 patients who are not sick enough yet to require hospitalization.
The drug covers COVID-19’s protein spikes so it can’t attach to a person’s insides and attack their body.
“It takes the kill power away from the virus without killing the virus,” Harmon said.
Patients are given the drug in an IV and sent home. A hospital staff member then follows up by phone or virtually. If the patient’s symptoms worsen then they return to the hospital.
“It appears to be safe and it appears to be effective,” Harmon said. “These type of therapies reduce the subsequent hospital rate by as much as two-thirds. It reduces your likelihood of subsequent serious disease.”
“We absolutely want to avoid hospitalizations. We want to do everything we can as an organization to help patients not get that severe,” Resetar said. “If we can implement a new service, such as this bamlanivimab, and prevent a couple of COVID hospitalization, that’s a win for this facility.”
Tidelands’ two hospitals are running at about 100 percent of their staff’s capacity, Resetar said.
“Overall both hospitals are much, much busier, more than just the COVID patients, than they would typically have been this time of the year,” she added. “There’s no one answer to why that is.”
“We’re still doing health care,” Harmon said. “All the things that a burgeoning population can cause for a growth of health care systems in the community – new requests for beds and facilities – have continued, complicated by COVID.”
Harmon expects Tidelands to continue to use telehealth services, which have increased during the pandemic, going forward.
“It really is a new normal for us. When COVID-19 is in our rear-view mirror, we’ll still have a new paradigm,” Harmon said. “It’s an exciting time. You’ve got to hold onto your seat belt.”
Harmon and Resetar said wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing are as important as ever.
“We know the community has a little bit of COVID fatigue, we all do,” Resetar said. “But it’s definitely not over”
Flu shots are also important.
“We don’t want the hospital to be full or overfull,” Resetar said. “We want to take care of the patients who need us, but if we can avoid hospitalization because someone gets a flu vaccine this year that would be great.”
Tidelands is hosting a free drive-through flu shot event on Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Campbell Marine Complex on Highway 17 just south of Georgetown.
Registration and proof of health insurance are not required.