Characterized by fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, has so far infected over 90,000 people globally and resulted in over 3,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). All eyes are on researchers to develop a coronavirus vaccine or treatment as soon as possible. While scientists aren’t there yet, research for developing a coronavirus vaccine and treatment is fortunately well underway.
“The research and efforts to find a treatment for the COVID-19 are moving faster than any I’ve seen before,” Karla Satchell, PhD, professor of microbiology-immunology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells Bustle via email. “More than likely a treatment will come from previous drug development for SARS, which puts us ahead of the game than if we had to start from the beginning." Satchell adds that this treatment will have to be carefully vetted and tested before it’s issued to the public. "A realistic timeline for a treatment is 18 months.” Satchell, as the director of the Center for Structural Genomics of Infectious Diseases, is currently leading a team of scientists investigating the structure of the virus, with the goal of figuring out how to stop it from replicating.
Though research into vaccines is well underway, One Medical’s Will Kimbrough, MD, Senior Medical Director of Clinical Services and National Virtual Medical Director says that it’s too early to know how effective they’ll be, or how long it’ll take to become available.
The Research On Coronavirus Treatments
According to the journal Nature, researchers are trying to adapt drugs that treat HIV and Ebola to help treat coronavirus. In January, China began treating coronavirus patients with an HIV-fighting cocktail to help slow the virus’s replication. The same type of drug repurposing has been used with some success when treating severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) viruses, which are also in the coronavirus family.
The pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences is preparing to conduct human trials throughout Asia on a potential treatment, called remdesivir. According to Gilead, this drug is an intravenous treatment meant to reduce fever and help patients with severe symptoms recover faster. Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general at the World Health Organization, said in a press conference in late February that remdesivir is the only drug currently being used effectively against coronavirus, CNN reports.
The Research On A Coronavirus Vaccine
In late February, the U.S.-based biotech company Moderna sent its first batch of a potential coronavirus vaccine to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). CNN reports that clinical trials could begin as soon as late April, but may take at least a year to be fully tested and approved. This is actually fairly quick, given that it usually takes scientists between two and four years to complete the exploratory stages of vaccine development, according to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
MarketWatch reports that the pharmaceutical company Inovio is also expecting to start human trials for a potential coronavirus vaccine in April. The company hopes to publish the results of their U.S.-based, 30-person clinical trial by the fall, estimating that 1 million vaccine doses could be available by the end of the year.
What Will Happen When A Coronavirus Treatment Or Vaccine Becomes Available
Politico reports that House and Senate leaders are currently grappling over the financial cost of making sure that vaccines and telehealth care will be affordable and accessible for people without insurance. On Feb. 26, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that the federal government wouldn’t guarantee that coronavirus vaccines would be affordable. According to Forbes, Azar said that "we need the private sector to invest" in a vaccine, despite the White House requesting the allocation of $2.5 billion in federal dollars to combat the virus.
"Vaccines should be affordable. It’s just as simple as that," Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic Representative from Connecticut told Politico. As with the potential vaccines, it is unclear how affordable potential coronavirus treatments would be.
If you’re concerned about treatment, vaccines, or both, stay tuned to the CDC’s updates about what’s being developed. Just as important, though, is the political conversation about who will be able to access coronavirus-related care once it becomes available.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here.
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