Vaccines versus drug treatments in the fight against coronavirus

Apr 13, 2020, 2:19 PM
covid vaccines...
A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller the first shot in the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 in March in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

In the fight against the coronavirus outbreak, numerous drugs are being explored and a vaccine is still ages away. Prominent among the drugs being explored is hydroxychloroquine. What’s the status of the research for its use in treating this virus?

“Hydroxychloroquine was invented for the treatment of malaria, and malaria is a parasite. So in order to treat parasites, you need an antiparasitic drug, which is what hydroxychloroquine has. If you want to treat a bacterial infection, you use an antibiotic and the other drug in this COVID cocktail is azithromycin, which is a common antibiotic,” said local MD Dr. Gordon Cohen.

“But COVID-19 is a virus, and when we want to treat viral infections, we need antivirals. There have been some antiviral drugs that have been tried — the first two drugs that were tried were drugs that were used for the treatment of HIV and the results were poor.”

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But Cohen points to Favipiravir, a drug being tested by the Fuji Film corporation in Japan and in the U.S. that looks promising.

“This drug has the correct mechanism of action. When you look at how it works at fighting viruses, it’s actually designed to treat viruses like COVID-19, so it looks very promising,” he said.

Is there any chance of getting a vaccine before the 18 months that we’re told it’s going to take?

“The first human trial for a vaccine was announced just last month by scientists here in Seattle, and they’re actually taking sort of the unusual step of skipping any animal research to test the vaccine for its safety or effectiveness,” he said. “There’s also some Australian scientists who have been injecting ferrets with two potential vaccines, and it’s really the first comprehensive pre-clinical trial to move to the animal testing stage. So that’s sort of where we’re at with the vaccine landscape.”

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“We need to keep in mind vaccines may seem like they’re the answer, but are they really the answer? So, first of all, we haven’t been that effective at developing vaccines against coronaviruses. Coronaviruses are responsible for the common cold. Well, how often do you see people getting a vaccine for the common cold? We don’t see that.”

Dr. Cohen believes we’re more likely to find a drug treatment than a vaccine in the near future.

“If I had to bet, I think we’re more likely to get to a drug as a treatment solution earlier than we do as a vaccine. And the benefit to that is we can get a drug to everybody. If you get sick, you get the treatment. Whereas with the vaccine, it’s going to be hard to suddenly inoculate 350 million Americans overnight and inoculate the rest of the world.”

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Vaccines versus drug treatments in the fight against coronavirus