There is some good news on the development of new treatments for COVID-19. Dexamethasone, a corticosteroid used since the 1960s to reduce severe inflammation has been shown to be effective in reducing mortality of people with severe COVID-19 disease.
About 19 out of 20 patients with COVID-19 will recover without requiring hospitalization. Of those patients admitted to the hospital most recover but some require supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation. It is these patients that dexamethasone seems to help.
For patients on ventilators, dexamethasone reduced the risk of death from 40% to 28%. For patients requiring supplemental oxygen it cut the risk of death from 25% to 20%. This is the first drug that has been shown to reduce mortality.
Remdesivir, a drug originally developed for the treatment of Ebola virus infection, has been shown to shorten recovery time for patients from 15 days to 11 days but it is not clear whether it has a beneficial effect on mortality. Unlike dexamethasone, however, Remdesivir is a new drug and in very limited supply.
Hydroxychloroquine has been a disappointment. Despite early suggestions that it might be of benefit, hydroxychloroquine has been a total disappointment. Controlled clinical trials have shown that hydroxychloroquine is of no benefit in either shortening the course of disease or preventing infection and may indeed lead to increased mortality and heart problems.
So while a suitable vaccine may be nine to 12 months away, these new treatments for COVID-19 are drugs that are already approved for other indications and available now, at least in small quantities.
Dr. John Andrews, “Doc John” of Lead, has a doctorate in virology, immunology, and microbiology who, after a career in developing prescription drugs, is now working on drug development to target COVID-19. He will be offering columns every two weeks about the progress of finding a vaccine for the virus.
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