There is, tragically, no question about the devastating impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the world. It has infected millions, killed hundreds of thousands and caused tremendous damage to the worldwide economy, pushing tens of millions of people out of work and sapping trillions of dollars from the worldwide economy.
The only good news – if you can even call it that – is that science and medicine have moved at speeds almost never before seen. As a result of their advancements, we are closer to a vaccine than many would have thought possible in such a short time period. Furthermore, new treatments are constantly becoming available which seem to be able to dramatically enhance the ability of people to survive COVID-19.
Here’s an update about where we stand in terms of vaccines and treatments.
The news on vaccines has been surprisingly positive. In order to come to the market, vaccines must past a series of phases:
- In Phase One, a group of people are assigned to one of two groups. The first will be given the vaccine, and the second will be given a placebo. Both groups will be examined for a variety of metrics, including antibody production and side effects. People may also participate in an escalation study, which will slowly increase the dose and monitor for the effects. The purpose of an escalation study is to monitor against adverse side effects.
- In Phase Two, more healthy subjects are given the vaccine. These people represent more of the overall population and have additional testing to confirm an immune response.
- In Phase Three, testing is increased, usually to thousands of people. Indeed, at least two of the ongoing Phrase Three tests have at least 15,000 participants. This testing can only happen if the vaccine has been proven to be both safe and effective in phases one and two.
As a result of its deadly impact, governments and foundations across the world began almost immediately working on a COVID-19 vaccine, investing billions of dollars into this effort. The entire process usually takes years, but thanks to a plethora of resources, a COVID vaccine may be available by the end of 2020.
Multiple drugs have already entered the third phase of trials. The most recent vaccine candidate to do so is mRNA-1273, produced by Moderna. This drug requires two injections, 28 days apart. Moderna will accept up to 30,000 people for this particular trial. This group will be given one of two doses: Either a vaccine, or a placebo, with volunteers unaware of which dose they have been given. The scientists conducting the study will monitor the results and determine who gets sick. There is no timeframe on the conclusion of this study beyond “months.”
Beyond the potential success of mRNA-1273, there are, at the moment, four other drugs that have entered Phase Three testing. These include:
- A combined Phase II/Phase III trial on a vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
- A potential vaccine from Sinopharm, a state-owned Chinese company, which is currently undergoing Phase III trials in the United Arab Emirates.
- A vaccine from Sinovac Biotech, a private Chinese company. The company has launched Phase III trials in Brazil and is currently building a facility to potentially manufacture doses of the vaccine.
- Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, which is undergoing Phase III trials in Australia.
Furthermore, another twelve drugs are in Phase Two, while another nineteen drugs are in Phase One. It remains highly possible that a drug may be on the market by the end of the year, and that multiple vaccine candidates will ultimately prove successful.
However, that is not to say that we will then instantly be able to go back to normal. As has been noted by many experts, no vaccine will be 100% effective, particularly when it first launches. Furthermore, many people will refuse the vaccine, thus becoming carriers or sick themselves. There is also an unknown about any vaccine: How long immunity will last.
Like with vaccines, treatments for COVID-19 have already come a remarkably long way and helped to save lives. To be clear, no treatment has been found that will “cure” COVID-19. However, it does appear as if some drugs can potentially be helpful in fighting off the worst effects and helping save lives.
For example,, one study has found that dexamethasone, a simple corticosteroid, can have huge benefits for patients who are critically ill. A study in England specifically found that it can cut mortality by 33% for patients who are on ventilators – often the sickest patients and most likely to die. It an also reduce mortality by 20% for patients who are receiving supplemental oxygen.
In early May, the FDA had given two drugs Emergency Use Authorization after they were found to be effective in fighting COVID-19. One such drug was Remdesivir, an antiviral that has been found to be effective in helping patients recover. The FDA has also given an Emergency Use Authorization to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, though it later revoked that EUA, citing concerns over the drugs efficacy and side effects.
The efforts to find cures continues, with the National Institute for Health recently announcing a major study push to expand the potential treatment pool. These studies do appear to be moving slower than many of the vaccination efforts, but are having some success.
There is no question that science has come a remarkably long way since this outbreak first started, but we also have a long, long way to go before we can comfortably say that COVID-19 can be fought and cured.