Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is defined as illness caused by a novel coronavirus now called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2; formerly called 2019-nCoV), which was first identified amid an outbreak of respiratory illness cases in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. It was initially reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on December 31, 2019. On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global health emergency. On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, its first such designation since declaring H1N1 influenza a pandemic in 2009.
No drugs or biologics have been proven to be effective for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19. Numerous antiviral agents, immunotherapies, and vaccines are being investigated and developed as potential therapies. Searching for effective therapies for COVID-19 infection is a complex process. Guidelines and reviews of pharmacotherapy for COVID-19 have been published.
The urgent need for treatments during a pandemic can confound the interpretation of resulting outcomes of a therapy if data are not carefully collected and controlled. Andre Kalil, MD, MPH, writes of the detriment of drugs used as a single-group intervention without a concurrent control group that ultimately lead to no definitive conclusion of efficacy or safety.
Rome and Avorn write about unintended consequences of allowing widening access to experimental therapies. First, efficacy is unknown and may be negligible, but, without appropriate studies, physicians will not have evidence on which to base judgement. Existing drugs with well-documented adverse effects (eg, hydroxychloroquine) subject patients to these risks without proof of clinical benefit. Expanded access of unproven drugs may delay implementation of randomized controlled trials. In addition, demand for unproven therapies can cause shortages of medications that are approved and indicated for other diseases, thereby leaving patients who rely on these drugs for chronic conditions without effective therapies.
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