Guest Columnist

Three pieces of good news about COVID-19 from Iowa

COVID-19 testing staff at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Family Medicine Clinic in Iowa City on Monday, Ap
COVID-19 testing staff at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Family Medicine Clinic in Iowa City on Monday, April 20, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

If you’re finding it hard to stay positive as the pandemic continues to disrupt our lives, take heart. There are reasons to be hopeful.

Scientists across the country and the globe have been working tirelessly to improve how we identify, treat, and prevent COVID-19. Some of that work is being done right here in Iowa. One of the many benefits of having an academic medical center in our state is that Iowans are among the first to have access to new COVID-19 treatments and clinical trials.

Here is some of the good news going on in Iowa that shows there really is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel:

1. Vaccines for COVID-19 may be closer than you think.

A vaccine would make it easier for our immune system to quickly recognize the virus and create antibodies to fight it — potentially protecting us from getting sick or keeping those who do get sick from becoming severely ill. Scientists have readied several potential vaccines for testing in record time. This feat is truly remarkable — vaccines usually take years to develop and test, but we may have one or more within 6 months.

UI Health Care is recruiting volunteers for the clinical trial of one of these promising COVID-19 vaccines. The clinical trial will enroll up to 250 participants and 32,000 people globally. In particular, the trial aims to recruit people from diverse populations who are most likely to be exposed to COVID-19.

We also will be participating in other vaccine trials later this year. Through these trials, Iowans can be part of groundbreaking research that could save millions of lives around the world.

2. The number of treatments available for COVID-19 continues to grow.

We’ve successfully treated hundreds of patients for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, and these positive outcomes are partially thanks to our ability to offer patients access to cutting-edge treatments through clinical trials.

Earlier this year, we were part of a nationwide clinical trial showing that the drug remdesivir effectively helps the recovery of severely ill COVID-19 patients. We are also exploring bringing this treatment to more of our clinics, which may be closer to home for many patients.

Our focus on treatment does not stop with remdesivir. We were the first in Iowa to start a convalescent plasma clinical trial, and we continue to offer this as another effective treatment for patients with COVID-19. We are also participating in a clinical trial for an antibody treatment to reduce the severity of the disease by preventing the virus from infecting certain cells in our bodies. This trial will be conducted on patients in our hospital and clinics, in hopes of keeping clinic patients well enough to avoid hospitalization which will help keep hospital beds available for the sickest people.

3. COVID-19 testing options for Iowans are expanding in preparation for flu season.

COVID-19 symptoms overlap with the common cold and the flu, so UI Health Care sites will be adding COVID-19 to our typical flu season tests, allowing us to use a single testing session for multiple respiratory diseases. Heading into flu season this fall, we are also increasing the number of rapid tests we can run on-site, reducing the time it takes to get test results.

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These are just a few examples of how we are making rapid progress in identifying, treating and preventing COVID-19. While scientific research and great care will help us get out of this crisis, you have an important role to play by helping prevent the spread of the disease. Please continue to diligently follow guidance on social distancing, hand-washing and wearing face coverings. If we work together, we will create light, and hope, at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

Brooks Jackson, MD, MBA, is the vice president for medical affairs and Tyrone D. Artz Dean of the University of Iowa Health Care’s Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine.

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