CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- From restaurants to major retailers, the supply chain issue has been gripping Americans, but now it's hitting health care.

Drug shortages are impacting the treatment of COVID-19 patients in Charlottesville. 

It all comes down to a medication called Tocilizumab, which reduces inflammation in COVID patients. It's given as a last effort to help keep people off of ventilators, and studies show it works.

"This has really forced us to make hard decisions about which patients get prioritized for this drug," said Dr. Patrick Jackson at the University of Virginia Health System. "It's one of our last medications that we have available to really change how the immune system is responding to the inflammation."

Studies show Tocilizumab has reduced death in severe COVID-19 patients, but it can also be lifesaving for some patients on chemotherapy.

Jackson says the shortage is alarming but not surprising. 

"It's a very specialized drug and so I'm not shocked the factory is having difficulty scaling production,” he said.

Now, doctors are giving substitute treatments and going back to the drawing board by researching alternative medications.

"When we use a replacement drug, we are doing what is called 'off-label' prescribing," said Dr. Bill Petri, an infectious disease expert. "It has not gone under the same rigorous safety, efficacy tests in this case that the Tocilizumab has."

He says Tocilizumab is the only drug of its kind to be authorized for emergency use to treat COVID patients.

"It's good that we can come up with fixes, but they're never going to be as tight as the original," Petri said.

Both Petri and Jackson say although they aren't giving as many patients Tocilizumab as before, they are still finding success in combinations of other drugs.