Early short course of neuromuscular blocking agents in patients with COVID-19 ARDS: a propensity score analysis

Gianluigi Li Bassi, Kristen Gibbons, Jacky Y. Suen, Heidi Dalton, Nicole White, Amanda Corley, Sally Shrapnel, Samuel Hinton, Simon Forsyth, John G. Laffey, Eddy Fan, Jonathon P. Fanning, Mauro Panigada, Robert Bartlett, Daniel Brodie, Davide Chiumello, Alyaa Elhazmi, Mariano Esperatti, Giacomo Grasselli, Shingo IchibaCarlos Luna, Eva Marwali, Laura Merson, Srinivas Murthy, Alistair Nichol, Mark Ogino, Paolo Pelosi, Antoni Torres, Pauline Yeung Ng, John F. Fraser, on behalf of the COVID-19 Critical Care Consortium

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Background: The role of neuromuscular blocking agents (NMBAs) in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is not fully elucidated. Therefore, we aimed to investigate in COVID-19 patients with moderate-to-severe ARDS the impact of early use of NMBAs on 90-day mortality, through propensity score (PS) matching analysis. Methods: We analyzed a convenience sample of patients with COVID-19 and moderate-to-severe ARDS, admitted to 244 intensive care units within the COVID-19 Critical Care Consortium, from February 1, 2020, through October 31, 2021. Patients undergoing at least 2 days and up to 3 consecutive days of NMBAs (NMBA treatment), within 48 h from commencement of IMV were compared with subjects who did not receive NMBAs or only upon commencement of IMV (control). The primary objective in the PS-matched cohort was comparison between groups in 90-day in-hospital mortality, assessed through Cox proportional hazard modeling. Secondary objectives were comparisons in the numbers of ventilator-free days (VFD) between day 1 and day 28 and between day 1 and 90 through competing risk regression. Results: Data from 1953 patients were included. After propensity score matching, 210 cases from each group were well matched. In the PS-matched cohort, mean (± SD) age was 60.3 ± 13.2 years and 296 (70.5%) were male and the most common comorbidities were hypertension (56.9%), obesity (41.1%), and diabetes (30.0%). The unadjusted hazard ratio (HR) for death at 90 days in the NMBA treatment vs control group was 1.12 (95% CI 0.79, 1.59, p = 0.534). After adjustment for smoking habit and critical therapeutic covariates, the HR was 1.07 (95% CI 0.72, 1.61, p = 0.729). At 28 days, VFD were 16 (IQR 0–25) and 25 (IQR 7–26) in the NMBA treatment and control groups, respectively (sub-hazard ratio 0.82, 95% CI 0.67, 1.00, p = 0.055). At 90 days, VFD were 77 (IQR 0–87) and 87 (IQR 0–88) (sub-hazard ratio 0.86 (95% CI 0.69, 1.07; p = 0.177). Conclusions: In patients with COVID-19 and moderate-to-severe ARDS, short course of NMBA treatment, applied early, did not significantly improve 90-day mortality and VFD. In the absence of definitive data from clinical trials, NMBAs should be indicated cautiously in this setting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number141
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 17 May 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Intensive care unit
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Neuromuscular blocking agent
  • SARS-CoV-2

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