Awaiting a vaccine, doctors search for COVID-19 treatments

Joseph Thompson

EVERETT — At best, a coronavirus vaccine could be available by the winter, doctors have said. Though, most health officials agree it’ll likely take 12 to 18 months.

Until then, finding effective treatments for COVID-19 is the next best option. There are nearly 1,500 virus studies in various stages of completion throughout the world, according to the National Institute of Health. Of those, some major findings have come from studies done in Snohomish County. Locally, data shows one drug is effective in shortening hospital stays and may prevent deaths from the virus. More are being tested.

“There’s definitely no magic potion, yet,” said Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s top medical officer, during a Friday briefing with reporters. “The search, the effort, the work is still ongoing.”

At Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, the same hospital that saw the country’s first reported case of COVID-19, one drug trial is being peer reviewed and another is just starting.

The first was for Remdesivir, which doctors hope can stop the virus from reproducing in a patient.

Gilead Sciences, a California-based pharmaceutical company, led the national trial. Nearly 200 hospitals participated.

The results show patients who took Remdesivir recovered from the virus quicker than those given a placebo, by an average of three days. However, the overall data did not show an improvement on the number of patients who died from the virus.

That’s not the case locally, though, said Dr. George Diaz, Providence’s section chief of infectious diseases.

At the Everett hospital, patients given Remdesivir were less likely to succumb to COVID-19 than those who didn’t, he said.

Those results are still under peer review. The definitive effectiveness of the drug won’t be known until all of the studies are published in medical journals, Diaz said.

However, the federal Food and Drug Administration gave Remdesivir an emergency use authorization on May 1. That classification means doctors can give the drug to patients with severe COVID-19 cases.

About 20 other COVID-19 patients at the Everett hospital are enrolled in a trial for a drug called Sarilumab. Researchers hope the drug, commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, will prevent lung inflammation caused by the virus, which leads to shortness of breath and respiratory failure.

Doctors in California are administering another trial that gives patients both a drug similar to Sarilumab and Remdesivir. Ideally, the combination would shorten the duration of illness and prevent patients from needing a ventilator.

In the next month, Providence doctors may introduce Remdesivir to the Sarilumab study, spokesperson Casey Calamusa said.

While hospitals continue to enroll in studies to treat COVID-19, health officials are reporting fewer people are visiting emergency rooms out of fear of contracting the virus. Non-COVID-19 patients shouldn’t worry about visiting the hospital, Diaz said. And doing so could make matters worse.

“We don’t want to see patients coming in with a very advanced disease, no matter what it might be,” Diaz said. “The chance of something bad happening goes way up if you delay medical care.”

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

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