Too many doctors prescribed antibiotics for COVID-19, says CDC

Too many doctors prescribed antibiotics for COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported earlier this month, even though these medications could not fight the virus. The over-prescription of antibiotics for COVID-19 increased the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

“During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, 30% of outpatient visits for COVID-19 among Medicare beneficiaries were linked to an antibiotic prescription, 50.7% of which were for azithromycin. Randomized clinical trials demonstrated no benefit of azithromycin in treating COVID-19, and its use for the disease has been linked to antimicrobial resistance,CDC researchers wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The researchers looked through Medicare records from April 2020 to April 2021 to find beneficiaries who had a COVID-19 outpatient visit (including telehealth appointments) and antibiotic prescriptions.

Hospital emergency departments had the most visits and the highest rates of antibiotic prescriptions. Furthermore, urgent care centers had the highest rate of prescribing azithromycin, wrote Sharon V. Tsay, M.D., and colleagues from the agency’s Division of Healthcare Quality and Promotion. Telehealth visits showed the second-highest rate of prescriptions of antibiotics for COVID-19.

“These observations reinforce the importance of improving appropriate antibiotic prescribing in outpatient settings and avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use for viral infections such as COVID-19 in older adult populations,” the authors concluded.

Market challenges for antibiotics

Bacterial and fungal illnesses caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have compelled doctors to expand the usage of antibiotics and antifungal drugs. However, our supply of effective treatments is dwindling due to the phenomenon of AMR, or antimicrobial resistance.

According to the CDC, more than 2.8 million drug-resistant illnesses occur in the United States each year, killing more than 35,000 people.

New medications are badly needed to combat these illnesses, but the market has proven to be an imperfect mechanism to fund their development.

“The primary issue forcing big pharma out of the antibacterial sector and leaving small company innovators empty-handed is that the traditional market dynamics do not exist for antimicrobials,” according to a report published in February by the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO).

While there have been 164 FDA-approved direct-acting antibacterial new chemical entities (NCEs) since the early 1900s, only one new molecular target NCE has been approved in the last 35 years, said the report. This demonstrates the need to broaden the antibacterial discovery engine.

AMR Action Fund invests in antibiotics

The AMR Action Fund, the world’s largest public-private partnership to invest in antibiotic development, is investing in R&D for new antimicrobials.

On April 4, the Fund announced its first investments: Adaptive Phage Therapeutics and Venatorx Pharmaceuticals.

“Investment into antimicrobials has not kept pace with the threat to global health security. Recognizing this problem, over 20 pharmaceutical companies that are members of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA), together with the WHO, the European Investment Bank, and the Wellcome Trust, launched the AMR Action Fund by raising nearly $1 billion with the overall goal of bringing two to four new antibiotics to patients within a decade,” AMR Action Fund’s announcement said.

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