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“Combat COVID” initiative looking for more people to join clinical treatment trials

Dr. Wohl said there needs to be more priority given to finding better treatment options for those who get COVID-19 early on in their diagnosis.
Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 3:40 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As state health officials continue to warn about a new, more contagious COVID-19 strain called the delta variant, federal officials are still looking for ways to better treat early infections.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is ramping up its “Combat COVID” initiative to attract more clinical trial participants.

While more than half of all adults in Wisconsin are fully vaccinated, the other half and children are still vulnerable to the disease, which is why finding more treatment options is a top priority right now.

“I don’t think anyone in your area hasn’t heard about the delta variant. You’re (Wisconsinites) also fortunate that you live in a state that has lower numbers and some decreases in new case rates, so I understand some of the relief that you’re feeling, but on the other hand, it could change in a second. It changed in Israel, it’s changed in other places where they are going back to lockdown,” said Dr. David Wohl, professor of medicine in the division of infectious disease at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He is also a lead physician on the ACTIV-2 clinical trial study. “Those are cautionary tales for us, so we just have to be vigilant.”

Dr. Wohl said there needs to be more priority given to finding better treatment options for those who get COVID-19, early after their diagnosis.

“Remember, President Trump got sick and was treated aggressively with medications that apparently made him feel better. We need to find therapies like that that everyone can take,” said Dr. Wohl.

Right now, Wohl said there’s only one FDA-approved medication for people who are hospitalized with COVID-19, Remdesivir. There’s nothing for outpatient treatment, other than a monoclonal antibody treatment that you have to be hooked up to an IV to receive.

“The key thing we need is, and this is what the federal government is really investing in, is easy to take therapies, ideally pills … so something you can take, maybe take it for a few days and it knocks out the COVID or maybe an inhaler therapy,” said Dr. Wohl. “Even a shot. If you went to a clinic and you just got a one-time shot, that’s better than an infusion.”

But to test out these treatments, Dr. Wohl said they need more people who are newly diagnosed with COVID-19 to voluntarily become part of clinical trials.

“We are looking to see whether or not an early treatment for COVID-19 could prevent or avoid long haulers,” he said.

There are more than 700 different sites throughout the United States participating in clinical trials. In Wisconsin, there are two in Milwaukee.

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with COVID-19, within the first few days of the infection, and would like to participate in a trial, head to www.combatcovid.hhs.gov or www.riseabovecovid.org to find a clinical trial. There is a 24-hour phone number to call.

“Once you’re involved, you’ll be screened and if you are eligible, you will come in basically for an extended doctor’s visit,” said Dr. Wohl. “There will be questions, an exam to check your heart and general health, bloodwork and it’ll happen a handful of times over a few weeks. Then they’ll follow you because we are interested in long COVID and maybe early treatment could prevent long COVID so we might talk to you over the next few months just by phone or face-to-face.”

Dr. Wohl said clinical trials are the only way to figure out if a treatment works. That’s how researchers found out hydroxychloroquine didn’t help fight or prevent COVID-19.

“I think the hydroxychloroquine example is a really good one, and why we need clinical trials because we may think, or someone may tell us, that a medication works to treat COVID-19, but we need to see the data,” said Dr. Wohl. “So if I just told you that the Pfizer vaccine works but didn’t show you data that it worked, would you take a vaccine? Same thing for treatment.”

Just a few days ago, the U.S. government paused the use of two other monoclonal antibody treatments, Bamlanivimab and Etesevimab, in high-risk COVID-19 outpatients because it didn’t work well against other types of the virus. That decision was made based on clinical trials.

“It takes participants. The more participants we have, the quicker we find an answer,” said Dr. Wohl. “If you have a slower enrollment rate … it means decreased cases in the United States so it’s good to have that problem, but on the other hand, that means that anyone who is diagnosed with COVID-19, we really got to find those people and let them know about this so they can make a choice.”

For more on the clinical trials, visit www.combatcovid.hhs.gov or www.riseabovecovid.org.

“The clinical trials are how we get from point A, of we really need something to treat this infection to the goal, which is we found it and it’s safe and effective and let’s get it out to the public,” said Dr. Wohl. “You can’t shortchange it. There are no cutting corners. You have to do clinical trials in order to find out what works.”

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