Is there a treatment for COVID-19?
here is currently no approved treatment for COVID-19, the illness caused by infection with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. It can take years to develop new medications, so for now, researchers are concentrating on existing medications that could fight the virus, specifically antiretrovirals. These treatments act on people already infected with the virus in several ways:
- Preventing the virus from entering cells
- Stopping the virus from replicating inside cells
- Minimizing the damage that the virus does to organs
Will a vaccine be available soon?
Under normal circumstances, it can take up to 10 years to develop a new vaccine. In the urgent context of COVID-19, scientists, research centres and pharmaceutical companies around the world are making a considerable effort to get a vaccine on the market as quickly as possible. The World Health Organization listed over 100 potential vaccines in preclinical trials. This means that several options are on the table, but not all of them will necessarily be developed.
Any vaccine that is developed will have the same effect: triggering an immune response in people against SARS-CoV-2, protecting them before they are exposed to the virus. To achieve this result, several techniques have been tested:
- The classic approach, using a small quantity of dead virus (like in the flu vaccine) or a weakened version of it (like in the chicken pox vaccine)
- More innovative approaches, such as using genetic material from the virus (like in the rabies vaccine), allowing the body’s cells to make their own material to provoke an immune system response, or using the yellow fever vaccine with small pieces of other viruses inserted (like in the Ebola vaccine)
No one can predict exactly when a vaccine will be ready, but researchers are trying to make one available for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
Should you get vaccinated if you have cancer?
Immunosuppressed people (those whose immune systems are weakened by cancer or treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation, as well as organ and stem cell transplant recipients) are at a higher risk of complications from viruses, including the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
The influenza vaccine, or flu shot, is the best way to protect yourself, especially if your immune system is weakened by cancer or cancer treatment. It is safe for most people receiving cancer treatment. It is also recommended by the Public Health Agency of Canada, even during COVID-19.
Other research: transfusions
Another type of treatment that is currently being researched in Canada and other countries is plasma transfusions from people who have been infected and recovered from COVID-19 to people currently infected. The theory is that if the recovered person’s plasma contains neutralizing antibodies (antibodies that can fight the virus), the infected person that receives the transfusion could limit the spread of the infection within their body by producing more of those antibodies. Results will be published soon.