AstraZeneca vaccine coming soon, ’til then, mask, wash, distance, Lundquist researcher urges
Dr. Eric Daar says there is a silver lining to the COVID-19 surge.
“It is speeding up vaccine trial results,” he said.
Daar is a member of a team at The Lundquist Institute that has enrolled nearly 300 volunteers in the Phrase III trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Nationwide, 30,000 volunteers are being enrolled. Two-thirds of the volunteers are receiving the vaccine. One-third are receiving a placebo. Vaccines with successful Phase III trials may be approved for general use.
The quicker people who received the placebo get COVID, the sooner Daar’s team can compare them to the percentage of people who received the vaccine, he explained.
“If, for example, only two people who receive the placebo get COVID, we can’t make a meaningful comparison to those who received the vaccine. We need about 150 in the placebo group to get COVID,” he said.
Both the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved on the basis of approximately 150 people in their placebo group getting COVID.
Daar is hopeful the AstraZeneca vaccine will get U.S. approval this month. The vaccine has been approved in the United Kingdom, where it was developed, at the University Oxford.
Like the Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, AstraZeneca requires two doses, administered about one-month apart. But unlike the other two, AstraZeneca does not require ultra cold storage, which makes it easier to distribute. AstraZeneca is also easier and cheaper to manufacture.
The U.S. is committed to purchasing 300 million doses of the vaccine, which is more than it is purchasing of the two approved vaccines.
Daar said there is presently not enough data to know if mutations in the COVID-19 virus are reason for concern. If they are, he said, the response will be to develop a combination of treatments so if a mutation becomes resistant to one treatment, it will be stopped by another. That is why AIDS patients receive a “cocktail” of treatments, he said.
Daar was enlisted last March to help with the COVID-19 pandemic because he is a member of a long established, international AIDS clinical trial group.
“At the start of the year, the country didn’t have a lot of researchers looking at coronaviruses before the pandemic,” the Rancho Palos Verdes resident said. “So those of us who had experience with other viral diseases were asked to take on this new challenge.”
In the early years of AIDS, Daar said, in comparing the two pandemics, almost every patient died. But AIDs infects far fewer people. As a result, it kills far fewer. About 13,000 AIDs victims die each year in the U.S. By comparison, Los Angeles has had 12,090 COVID-19 deaths in the past 11 months and the U.S. has had 373,00 deaths.
Daar said administering the COVID-19 vaccinations is relatively simple.
“There just needs to be personnel qualified to respond if there is an adverse reaction,” Daar said.
But distribution, as has been widely reported, remains a challenge.
“It’s easy to vaccinate people in hospitals. It’s trickier in a seniors nursing home. And it’s a lot harder to administer to the general community,” he said.
Daar cautioned that until there is widespread vaccination, the only way to slow the pandemic is the centuries old practice of mask wearing, social distancing and handwashing.
In addition to conducting COVID-19 trials, Daar leads one of seven teams at Harbor UCLA who see patients admitted to the Emergency Department.
“It’s as bad as it looks on the television news. Normally, we see a variety of cases. Now, 80 to 100 percent are COVID patients. It seems like an endless number are coming in. Officially, our ICU beds are full. We’ve created extra space to be able to provide care. A substantial number require high levels of oxygen to sustain them.”
Daar said patients with underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, and obesity are expected to fare worse than those without underlying conditions. But we’re seeing severe cases with every type of patient and every age. We don’t understand why,” he said. ER
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