Experts: New Covid-19 treatments should complement ‘robust’ vaccination program

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Access to new innovative treatments against Covid-19 should complement a “robust” vaccination program if our country hopes to win the fight against the virus, several health experts agreed in a recent Stratbase ADRi virtual town hall discussion.

“We cannot wait until this pandemic is completely over in order to revive the economy,” said Prof. Dindo Manhit, Stratbase ADRi  president at the forum called “Trends in Innovative Treatments for Covid-19.”

“Because of the pace of vaccination and the emergence of the Delta variant, we need an innovative, accelerated, cross-sectoral and cost-effective approach to health care if we are to confront this lingering crisis decisively,” he pointed out.

On October 1, the drug Ronapreve (Casirivimab + Imdevimab), also known as REGN-COV in other countries, was granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration.

Dr. Evan Glen Vista, Internal Medicine Specialist at St. Luke’s Medical Center, said that it is a monoclonal-antibody just like tocilizumab but this is a developed drug specifically for the virus. It’s available as an infusion and it prevents severe Covid symptoms.

Dr. Rontgene Solante, chief of the Adult Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine Unit at San Lazaro Hospital, said monoclonal antibodies like Ronapreve act like vaccines in blocking the virus from entering the cells.  “The earlier you catch patients while they have a mild to moderate infection, [the greater your chance of preventing them from becoming] high risk, severe and critical cases,” he said.

Dr. Solante emphasized the need to move forward “because SARS-CoV-2 is not going away.”

In a supporting statement, Universal Health Care Watch co-convenor Alvin Manalansan said, “We must work together to remove the barriers to these new treatments specifically developed for Covid-19. More government funding should be allocated to give access to these innovative treatments that have EUA approvals in the developed countries and are proven to prevent costly hospitalization. This can potentially save government resources so that more Covid-19 patients may benefit.”

“We need to bridge what has become a Covid-19 treatment accessibility divide, through a unified, patient-centered approach,” Manalansan said.

Other speakers in the forum voiced their opinion on the way the government is handling the health and economic crisis and proposed ways to improve pandemic management.

Former Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral lamented the Philippines’s dismal ranking in surveys by Bloomberg and Nikkei Asia that measured countries’ resilience and response to the pandemic.

Dr. Michael Tee, vice chancellor for Planning and Development, University of the Philippines-Manila, stressed the need for data-driven decision-making and urged policymakers to segment the population into vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals and look into the infection, hospitalization and death rate of patients in both groups.

Hazel Docuyanan, chief pharmacy officer of the Makati Medical Center, emphasized the need to understand the disease, discover new treatment, or repurpose existing drugs as we look into treatment options and the barriers to these treatments.

Dr. Benjie Co, Pediatrics and Clinical Pharmacology Specialist at Asian Hospital and Medical Center, advised looking at strategic priorities and proposed three steps: (1) Containing the spread of the pandemic by decreasing morbidity and mortality, (2) decreasing the deterioration of human assets, rights, social cohesion and livelihoods, and (3) protecting, assisting and advocating for people and communities vulnerable during the pandemic.

“Endemic Covid-19 means we will find a new tolerable way to live with this virus. It will feel strange at first, then [later] it will not,” Co added.

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