From warning on dexamethasone to HCQ: Latest on Covid-19 treatment, vaccines

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Home / India News / From warning on dexamethasone to HCQ: Latest on Covid-19 vaccines

More than 8.4 million people have contracted the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) and 453,290 have died across the world in nearly six months after it was first reported from China’s Wuhan late last year.

Around 10 potential vaccines are now undergoing trials in humans, in the hope that a shot to prevent infection can become available in coming months. And even before any vaccines have been proven to work, several countries have already begun making deals with pharmaceutical companies to order doses.

The World Health Organization (WHO) hopes hundreds of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine can be produced this year and 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Thursday.

The WHO is drawing up plans to help decide who should get the first doses once a vaccine is approved, she said.

Priority would be given to frontline workers such as medics, those who are vulnerable because of age or other illness, and those who work or live in high-transmission settings such as prisons and care homes.

Here are all the latest updates you need to know about Covid-19 vaccines:

Caution on dexamethasone

Dexamethasone, a cheap steroid that can help save the lives of patients with severe Covid-19, should be reserved for serious cases in which it has been shown to provide benefits, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned.

Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s emergencies programme, said the drug should only be used in those serious cases where it has been shown to help.

“It is exceptionally important in this case, that the drug is reserved for use in severely ill and critical patients who can benefit from this drug clearly,” Ryan said during a briefing.

Trial results announced on Tuesday by researchers in Britain showed dexamethasone, a generic drug used since the 1960s to reduce inflammation in diseases such as arthritis, cut death rates by around a third among the most severely ill coronavirus patients admitted to hospital.

The research body involved in the trial was the same one which found evidence that HCQ (Hydroxychloroquine) was not extremely effective on all Covid-19 patients.

That makes it the first drug proved to save lives in fighting the disease. However, some doctors were cautious, citing possible side-effects and asking to see more data.

Volunteers lining up to be infected

Thousands are signing up to take part in a high-stakes experiment willing to deliberately expose themselves to the coronavirus to test a potential vaccine, should researchers decide to proceed.

Known as human-challenge studies, these tests can hasten research by placing volunteers in the path of the virus, rather than waiting for accidental exposure.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc, said the controversial approach may become necessary at some point as the disease ebbs in some cities, making it harder to evaluate shots in the more conventional way.

The company is working with the University of Oxford on one of the most advanced vaccines against the virus.

The initiative is organized by 1DaySooner, a group that advocates on behalf of people who want to join challenge studies. The organisation has held discussions with potential partners and vaccine manufacturers in a bid to start production of the virus, said Josh Morrison, one of its founders.

More than a quarter of the volunteers are in Brazil, where the coronavirus is spreading fast.

Morrison said 1DaySooner has contacted vaccine developers planning final-stage studies there to suggest they consider people on its list for conventional studies, too.

Proponents note that the approach was used safely for diseases such as malaria, typhoid, cholera as well as the flu. Some experts are calling for a cautious approach.

Caution towards polio vaccine for Covid-19

Indian scientists have responded cautiously to a suggestion by global researchers that the oral polio vaccine be tested for Covid-19 treatment, saying it is a “testable idea” based on a sound scientific concept but may offer only limited protection against the infection.

With a vaccine for Covid-19 at least a year away, scientists say repurposing already safe and effective vaccines is the way to go for immediate relief against Covid-19.

The repurposed vaccines could include the oral polio vaccine (OPV) and the Bacillus Calmette–Guerin (BCG) used against tuberculosis, both part of the immunisation given to Indian children.

It is worth conducting a clinical trial, said Ram Vishwakarma, director of the CSIR-Indian Institute of Integrative Medicine (CSIR-IIIM) in Jammu.

A study was published last week by an international team of researchers in the journal Science. The researchers, including Shyamasundaran Kottili and Robert Gallo from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in the US, said the OPV should be tested to see if it might protect people from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

They noted that the vaccine used to prevent poliomyelitis infections has been around since the 1950s, and is found to provide some protection against other viral infections.

Hydroxychloroquine won’t stop coronavirus deaths

WHO’s top scientist has said it’s now been definitively proven that the cheap malaria drug hydroxychloroquine the drug favoured by President Donald Trump doesn’t work in stopping deaths among people hospitalised with the new coronavirus.

But Dr Soumya Swaminathan said there could still be a role for the drug in preventing people from catching Covid-19 in the first place and noted that clinical trials testing hydroxychloroquine’s role in this are ongoing.

Swaminathan said in a press briefing on Thursday that there is still a gap in determining whether hydroxychloroquine has a role at all in the prevention or minimising the severity of the illness in early infection or even in preventing it.

The UN health agency announced this week that it is suspending the hydroxychloroquine arm of its own trial testing various experimental therapies for Covid-19, referring to previous results from a large UK trial and a separate analysis of the evidence on the drug.

The other drugs being tested by WHO, including treatments used in the past for Ebola and AIDS, are still being pursued.

(With agency inputs)

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