A photo of one vial of the drug remdesivir taken in Hamburg, Germany, on April 8, 2020. (AFP / Ulrich Perrey)

Coronavirus pandemic: misinformation circulates about antiviral medicine remdesivir

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Multiple Facebook and Twitter posts shared hundreds of times claim the antiviral medicine remdesivir has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a treatment for the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19. The claim is misleading; as of May 12, 2020, the FDA has only authorised the emergency use of remdesivir, an experimental drug, in treating COVID-19 patients in hospitals; as of May 12, 2020, there is no FDA-approved product available to treat COVID-19.

The claim was shared in this Facebook post on May 5, 2020. 

The three-minute 20-second video included in the post appears to be taken from a news segment about the use of the antiviral remdesivir against COVID-19.

The caption, written in a mix of English and Tagalog, states: “Thank you dear Lord REMDESIVIR!!!!! / Thank you REMDESIVIR to treat Coronavirus!!!God is good!!! This really makes one cry from so much happiness!this is proven FDA approved!!Amen !!!Permission to share and hope you share that now we have a defense against this intense virus!!!”

A screenshot taken on May 11, 2020, of the misleading post by Lita K.of Cali

On May 1, US regulators authorised the emergency use of remdesivir against COVID-19 after the experimental drug was shown to shorten the recovery time in some coronavirus patients in a major clinical trial, AFP reported here. The FDA authorisation allows remdesivir to be distributed more widely and used in patients hospitalised with a severe form of COVID-19.

A similar claim about remdesivir was shared here, here, here and here on Facebook, and here on Twitter without the video.

Cardiologist Willie Ong, who ran for Philippine senate in 2019, also shared a similar claim in this Facebook post on May 5, 2020.

The claim, however, is misleading.

“Remdesivir has not undergone the same type of review as an FDA-approved or cleared product,” the FDA said in this fact sheet published on May 1 related to its emergency use authorisation for the drug. "There is no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved product available to treat COVID-19."

The FDA also states: “Remdesivir is an investigational antiviral medicine to treat certain people in the hospital with COVID-19. Remdesivir is investigational because it is still being studied."

This press release from Gilead Sciences, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures remdesivir, also states: "Remdesivir is an investigational drug that has not been approved by the FDA for any use. It is not yet known if remdesivir is safe and effective for the treatment
of COVID-19."

The misleading post includes a video originally produced by US television network CNN. The clip has been shared in a misleading context. 

Keyword searches found the video in the misleading post corresponded with the one-minute 18-second to four-minute 39-second mark of this video uploaded to CNN’s YouTube channel on May 2, 2020. 

The CNN video's caption states in part: “The FDA issued an emergency-use authorization, saying the benefits of the drug outweigh its risks in patients. An emergency-use authorization is a lower regulatory bar than full FDA approval.”