It's been a confusing week. And a hard week. And many people are hoping that a vaccine or medication for COVID-19 will help us get back to normal.
The good news is that vaccines are in development and health officials are investigating the use of a malaria drug called chloroquine to treat the virus. The bad news is that neither are available yet because there is still a lot of work to be done to make them safe.
There is a lot of misinformation out there, but here are five facts you need to know about pharmaceutical advancements in the fight against coronavirus.
1. The FDA clarified President Trump's statement on COVID-19 drug
During a press briefing on Thursday President Trump says that a drug called chloroquine had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use as a COVID-19 treatment and would be available immediately.
"We're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately—and that's where the FDA has been so great. They've gone through the approval process—it's been approved," he said.
Minutes later FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn clarified that while clinical trials are underway, and while chloroquine was approved decades ago as an anti-malarial treatment it has not yet been approved for fighting COVID-19. "What's also important is not to provide false hope," said Hahn. "We may have the right drug, but it might not be in the appropriate dosage form right now, and it might do more harm than good."
This follows the publication of a new study in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents which suggests a related drug, used in combination with azithromycin (an antibiotic) may be effective in treating COVID-19.
The FDA is working hard investigating the potential of chloroquine and other therapies. Another drug, remdesivir, is used to treat Ebola and is already being used on COVID-19 patients in other countries, but the safety and efficacy are still being determined. The President said Thursday that it will be used in compassionate cases in the U.S., meaning people for whom all other treatments have failed may get this drug before it is more widely available.
2. This week volunteers were injected during the first COVID-19 vaccine trial in the U.S.
Scientists in labs all over the world are working on vaccinations for coronavirus and this week researchers at Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute in Seattle injected a volunteer with a vaccine they hope will help America fight the coronavirus.
"We're team coronavirus now," study leader Dr. Lisa Jackson told the Associated Press. "Everyone wants to do what they can in this emergency."
According to Kaiser Permanente, the "vaccine is made using a new process that is much faster than older methods of making vaccines. It does not contain any part of the actual coronavirus and cannot cause infection."
The team is testing the safety of the doses given to volunteers and if these doses produce an immune response. This is just the first phase of the testing and doesn't determine if the vaccine will prevent coronavirus—that part comes later when the researchers move onto phase two.
3. The first American to test the coronavirus vaccine is a mom
The first person to test the vaccine was Jennifer Haller, a mom of two from Seattle.
"We all feel so helpless. This is an amazing opportunity for me to do something," she explained.
Thanks to Haller and 44 other volunteers a vaccination, made by Moderna, Inc. could be on the way, but that's probably about 12 months away, the scientists note. They need to monitor Haller and the other volunteers to prove the vaccination is safe.
"I'll be keeping a journal of any symptoms and my temperature and everything for the next two weeks," Haler told Refinery29.
"We'll do a phone follow-up today and tomorrow, and then in a week I'll go back in for a blood draw, a week after that I'll go in for another blood draw. And then four weeks from Monday, I'll go in for the second dose [of the vaccine]—and I'll repeat that whole process again. Then throughout the next 14 or 18 months I'll have a handful of visits for blood draws," she explained.
4. There is a race to find a treatment for and an inoculation against coronavirus
As researchers Mariana Mazzucato and Azzi Momenghalibaf recently wrote for the New York Times, "The search for treatments and vaccines to curb transmission of the new coronavirus is in overdrive."
That is absolutely good news.
So is the fact that some lawmakers are fighting to make such treatments affordable, despite Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar's statement the federal government "can't control that price" pharmaceutical companies put coronavirus drugs and vaccines.
But it will take time for vaccines and treatments to become available.
5. Coronavirus vaccines and drugs will not be approved overnight
FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn says President Trump's suggestion that the FDA is fast-tracking coronavirus vaccines and drugs is correct, but suggested a vaccine is 12 months away, which is actually quite fast.
"The president is right. This is record time for the development of a vaccine," he said Thursday.
He also said that the president is right about the potential in chloroquine, the drug that was already approved to treat malaria. "The president's right, with an off-the-shelf drug we do have a lot of information about the side effects of the drug. That really helps in terms of expediting," Hahn explained. "I don't want to speculate about a timeline at this point."