by Sudha Sudhaker ‘21
The current outbreak of COVID-19 has sparked global anxiety and concern. The novel coronavirus, now called SARS-CoV-2, causes the disease COVID-19. Even though the world is several months into the coronavirus pandemic, experts still have not yet found an effective treatment because there is too much that is still unknown about the virus. COVID-19 is a new virus, so no one has natural immunity, and experts could not research it prior to the outbreak. If a potential treatment is found to be ineffective or unsafe, it could end up doing more harm than good.
Researchers around the world are developing more than 155 vaccines against the coronavirus, and 23 vaccines are in human trials. Vaccines typically require years of research and testing before reaching the clinic. The development cycle of a vaccine involves scientists first giving the vaccine to animals such as mice or monkeys. Then, phase 1 safety trials began when scientists gave the vaccine to a small number of people to confirm that it stimulates the immune system. Phase 2 involves giving the vaccine to hundreds of people split into groups, such as children and the elderly, to see if the vaccine acts differently depending on the group. During phase 3, scientists give the vaccine to thousands of people and wait to see how many become infected. In order to formally approve the vaccine, regulators in each country review the trial results.
In ordinary circumstances, these phases would take years to complete, but considering the current effects of the coronavirus, the timeline is being shortened. So far, there are three vaccine candidates that are furthest along in phase 3. One is being developed at Oxford University, which uses a weakened version of a virus that causes common colds in chimpanzees. Researchers then added antigens from the coronavirus hoping that these could trigger a human immune response to fight the virus. Another candidate in a phase 3 trial is being developed in China. It uses a killed version of the coronavirus to spur an immune reaction. Lastly, the biotech company Moderna, which is partnering with the National Institute of Health, announced that it would be moving to phase 3 within two weeks. There are several types of vaccine approaches being tested as well. One uses RNA material that provides the instructions for a body to produce the antigens itself. Relatively, this is an untested approach to vaccination, but if it works, this could make the vaccine easier to manufacture. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and other officials estimate that the public may have access to a workable vaccine roughly around the late spring of 2021.
There are no approved coronavirus treatments at this time. The drug furthest along in clinical trials is Remdesivir. Although the drug is not FDA approved for COVID-19, the agency did grant an emergency use authorization to make it more accessible. Remdesvir has previously shown effects against SARS, MERS, and Ebola. Studies have shown that patients who received Remdesivir for 5 days were 65-percent more likely to improve on day 11 compared to those who did not get the treatment. Another medication being used is Dexamethasone, which is especially effective for treating those who were on a ventilator or need extra oxygen. Studies have also shown that the mediations Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine may be useful for treating hospitalized patients with mild cases of COVID-19.