Scientists are racing against the clock to develop new treatments for COVID-19, while others are looking at existing treatments that may slow down the pandemic.
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Vaccines And Other Potential COVID-19 Treatments
Vaccines train the immune system to recognize a virus. When a virus enters the body, the immune system can then effectively deal with the threat, and protect people from viral infections.
There are many projects underway to develop a vaccine, but only five have been approved for human trials so far.
Pfizer and BioNTech started human trials in the United States on Monday (6 May). If trials are successful, they hope to have the vaccine ready for emergency use by September.
The companies are jointly developing a ‘genetic code’ vaccine. The vaccine uses messenger RNA to carry instructions that teach cells how to make the spike protein associated with the coronavirus.
The coronavirus uses this protein to take over the lungs. For this reason, the vaccine could train a healthy immune system to make antibodies to fight infection.
Because traditional vaccines use weakened virus strains, this technology has some advantages. It tends to be more stable and faster to produce.
The University of Oxford in England has started trials for a conventional type of vaccine in late April. It uses a modified virus to trigger an immune response, and as a result, the body can build resistance. The trial has more than 500 participants, and officials at Oxford believe it has an 80% chance of success.
While some countries are developing new vaccines, others are looking at existing vaccines as a solution. Polio and tuberculosis vaccines are some of the options scientists are studying.
Scientists think these vaccines may offer some protection from the novel coronavirus and boost the immune system enough to resist infection. Whether or not these vaccines elicit enough of an immune response is the question.
Although there is no evidence to confirm this theory, trails in Australia and the Netherlands are underway to test existing vaccines.
In contrast to vaccines, antivirals target the virus in people already infected. Some antivirals stop a virus from replicating, while others block a virus from infecting cells.
As a rule, antivirals work better if administered early, before a virus can multiply significantly or cause too much damage to the body.
Because it may take decades for a new compound to make it to the marketplace, existing antivirals hold the most promise as a treatment for COVID-19.
The antiviral drug Remdesivir is one of the treatments the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized for emergency use. Research with MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) noted that the drug prevented the virus from replicating. Because MERS is one of the many coronaviruses, it could have the same effect on the novel coronavirus.
Clinical trials underway claim the drug has a positive effect and reduces recovery time. However, a study published in The Lancet reports Remdesivir had no notable impact.
Researchers are investigating other antivirals such as Kaletra and Favipiravir.
Aside from vaccines and antiviral drugs, scientists are also exploring other treatment options.
When a person becomes infected with a virus, the immune system is triggered to fight the infection. But in some cases, the immune system over-reacts and produces large amounts of cytokines.
Cytokines help protect against infection, but too many can rampage through the body and cause the immune system to start attacking healthy tissue. Scientists think this may be causing acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) in some COVID-19 patients.
Immune suppressant drugs aim to reduce a cytokine storm and prevent the body from attacking itself. Trails are underway to see if immune suppressants can reduce the severe effects of ARDS.
Monoclonal antibodies are molecules designed to mimic the body’s immune response. Scientists are ready to start testing antibodies isolated from SARS and COVID-19 survivors.
Blood Plasma Transfers
In theory, the plasma from COVID-19 survivors contains antibodies that will attack the novel coronavirus. Medical facilities are in the process of conducting experimental trials based on this theory.
Madagascar and China made headlines when both countries promoted herbal and traditional medicine as cures for COVID-19.
Madagascan President Andry Rajoelina launched an herbal tea that he claimed already cured two people. Since then, soldiers have been going door to door to administer the tea.
The tea contains artemisia, a plant with proven efficacy against malaria. Rajoelina has said scientists are trying to produce an injectable version of the herbal remedy.
Following his claims, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised people not to try untested remedies.
“Even if therapies are derived from traditional practice and natural, establishing their efficacy, and safety through rigorous clinical trials, is critical,” WHO said in a statement on Monday.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also warned people that there is no evidence that alternative medicines can prevent or cure COVID-19.
In China, government officials are promoting various traditional remedies to alleviate the symptoms of COVID-19. Traditional medicines are part of China’s health system. However, there is no available data that demonstrate that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) works.
According to Chinese State Media, three medicines have proved effective at treating COVID-19. Furthermore, the newspaper China Daily, reported Jinhua Qinggan, herbal granules developed to combat H1N1 influenza in 2009, speeds up recovery.
On China’s clinical trial website, descriptions of the trials are vague and lack specific details. One remedy claims to cure COVID-19, while another claims to prevent mild cases from becoming worse.
In short, there are many trials underway, and scientists are hopeful that treatment for COVID-19 will be available soon. The WHO stresses that there is no evidence that any medicine cures or prevents COVID-19, and does not recommend self-medication of any kind.
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