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As face masks start to come off, bio/pharma’s COVID-19 battle goes on.
With some indicators showing vaccines are helping to ease the number of the COVID-19 infections in some regions, many people are asking when they will be able to resume previously routine activities. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attempted to answer some questions about when it is safe to stop wearing a face mask for typical social situations in an April 27, 2021 guidance for fully vaccinated people (1).
The underlying message: if you are fully vaccinated, you can participate in more normal activities without wearing a mask compared with people who have not been vaccinated.
In the United States, the initial frenzy to secure a COVID-19 vaccine calmed as vaccine production ramped up to meet demand; as of late April 2021, almost 30% of the adult US population was fully vaccinated (2). The next concern is convincing the vaccine-hesitant that the risks of not getting vaccinated far outweigh potential side effects of the injection. One positive sign is that as more people are vaccinated, more people holding a “wait-and-see” approach are lining up to get vaccinated. However, a persistent group of approximately 20% said they would get the vaccine only if required or not at all (3).
Various statistical models suggest that the combined number of vaccinated adults and people with some immunity due to exposure to the virus may mean herd immunity is within reach for the US. There are warnings, also, that the nation can slip back and forth over this crucial threshold if a sufficient number of people are not vaccinated.
With the virus raging in hotspots such as India and Brazil, however, a quick end to the pandemic is not in sight. Evolving variants threaten to set back advances made thus far. Some patients have lingering, and sometimes debilitating, effects from COVID-19. The task of healthcare professionals and pharmaceutical researchers to control the pandemic—and deliver new treatments—is not yet done.
In the 15 months following the initial outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, bio/pharmaceutical companies launched more than 850 research programs for vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, including 218 vaccines, nearly 250 antivirals, and nearly 400 treatments; approximately 46% were in clinical-phase development. Approximately one-third of the antivirals and 90% of the treatments were redirected or repurposed therapies (4).
Meanwhile, the National Institutes of Health has announced a large Phase III clinical trial to evaluate existing prescription and over-the-counter medicines for people to self-administer at home to treat COVID-19 symptoms. The goal is to determine treatment options for patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms, who are not sick enough to be hospitalized, to take at home. Currently, there are no approved medicines that patients can take at home to address symptoms of the disease. The trial will study up to seven drugs already approved by FDA for other conditions (5).
While the public may be eager to throw away the masks and get back to “normal” life, the reality is that COVID-19 will not magically go away any time soon. Treatments to manage the symptoms will be a big part of the bio/pharma picture for the foreseeable future. For bio/pharma companies, the work goes on.
1. CDC, “When You’ve Been Fully Vaccinated,” www.cdc.gov, accessed April 27, 2021.
2. CDC, “COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States,” https://covid.cdc.gov, accessed April 27, 2021.
3. L. Hamel and M. Brodie, “KFF COVID-19 Vaccine Monitor: What We’ve Learned,” kff.org, April 16, 2021.
4. BIO, COVID-19 Therapeutic Development Tracker, www.bio.org, accessed April 27, 2021.
5. NIH, “Large Clinical Trial to Study Repurposed Drugs to Treat COVID-19 Symptoms,” Press Release, April 19, 2021.
Rita Peters is editorial director of BioPharm International.
Vol. 34 No. 5
When referring to this article, please cite it as R. Peters, “Moving Into the Next Phase,” BioPharm International 34 (5) 2021.