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The Road to Recovery

By: Brianna Kalina

As the world continues efforts to mitigate the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic through mass lockdowns, social distancing, and washing one’s hands, only a vaccine could truly end the crisis.  Accordingly, research and development of a vaccine that is effective and safe for the global population is in overdrive. Therapeutic drugs are being tested and developed as well to see if it can relieve symptoms and cause less fatalities for those afflicted with Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The government has expedited and made emergency exceptions for the use of existing drugs to fight Covid-19, even though they have previously only been used to fight other ailments. Remdesivir has been given to those in serious danger of losing their lives from Covid-19. A recent analysis published in the New England Journal of Medicine on April 10 traced the responses of 53 patients who received the drug. 36 of the 53 improved, 8 got worse, and 7 died. Doctors were able to take 17 of the 30 patients off of ventilators that they had been using to help them breathe.  Remdesivir gave the patients side effects ranging from rash to renal impairment, and there are no definitive conclusions that could come from this study. This is because there was no randomized control group, who would have been given a placebo, and the study had only a small number of patients.  However, the general consensus is that this drug provided hope that its effectiveness is real, and controlled clinical trials have begun to see if these findings will be validated. Harvard University epidemiologist Eric Feigl-Ding stated that the results “are indeed hopeful and promising from this uncontrolled Remdesivir intervention study,” and he called for more Remdesivir drug trials.  Yet, not all experts agree and have noted only that while the drug does not cause any additional harm to the patients, one cannot yet know if it is truly effective in fighting Covid-19.

Hydroxychloroquine has shown less effectiveness in the fight against Covid-19, despite President Donald Trump’s continual hyping of the drug in his public statements. The anti-malaria drug has serious side effects on the heart.  Initial studies show that the cardiovascular risks are severe, and there is not enough evidence to show that it works or is safe to administer. Nonetheless, the President has openly encouraged the public to use it, despite his advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci’s insistence that not enough is known about the drug to make such declarations.  The President announced, “What do you have to lose?” when imploring doctors to give the drug together with the antibiotic Azithromycin. Medical professionals and experts have almost universally concurred that only clinical trials can determine what patients would benefit from the drug cocktail and for whom it would be too big a risk.  Right now, the drug is being prescribed as a last resort measure for those severely afflicted with the disease.

As of this date, there are no treatments clinically proven to treat Covid-19, and doctors are utilizing these drugs in desperate situations until more is known about their effectiveness. As for a vaccine, at least sixty-two efforts are currently progressing, according to the World Health Organization.  While experts are optimistic that a vaccine will be effective based on the fact that coronavirus patients can produce antibodies to the disease, it will likely take between 12 and 18 months for a vaccine to be approved for use to the general public. Vaccines convince the body’s immune system to attack a foreign virus, bacterium, or parasite. This is how vaccines for the flu and other common ailments work. One difficulty in developing a Covid-19 vaccine is that there is no proven vaccine for any type of human coronavirus – even those “viral cousins” of the current novel coronavirus like the 2002 SARS and 2012 MERS viral outbreaks.  This is because those viruses ceased causing harm to humans for a variety of reasons, and the development of a vaccine for them became unnecessary, stopping funding for trials. Another concern is whether the vaccine can last a lifetime since immunity to other coronaviruses that cause colds in humans only lasts a year or two. This could mean that people will need seasonal shots of any successful Covid-19 vaccine.

The world is racing towards curing Covid-19, bringing real hope that this unprecedented, world-wide effort to find effective therapeutics and a vaccine, will result in quicker solutions than are currently predicted.

Photo courtesy of the Center of Disease Control and Prevention.