COVID-19 treatments

Updated Feb. 17, 2022

Scientific knowledge of COVID-19 treatments continues to grow, but there is still more to learn. UC Davis has played an important role in the global effort to find effective science-based care for COVID-19 patients and will continue to adapt treatments as research advances.

Remdesivir (brand name Veklury) and monoclonal antibody therapy are being used to control viral infection (or replication), and dexamethasone is used to control the immune response to infection. These treatments assist with recovery for those diagnosed with COVID-19. These drugs have often proven more successful than using a ventilator, which sometimes has made lung inflammation worse.

Paxlovid (a pill made by Pfizer) and molnupriavir (a pill made by Merck) have received emergency use authorization as treatments by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Both of these are used for outpatients only and not for patients who require hospitalization.

  • Pfizer's oral antiviral was the first to be authorized in Dec. 2021. It's for treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and children ages 12 and older who weigh about 88 pounds or more. These are people who are at high risk of severe COVID-19. This treatment should be given within five days of the onset of symptoms.
  • Merck's pill is used to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infection in adults who are at high risk for developing severe COVID-19. It is available by prescription only and is not authorized to be used for patients younger than 18. This treatment should be given within five days of the onset of symptoms.

There are two COVID-19 pills that are authorized by the FDA for treatment of the virus:

Pfizer's COVID-19 pill, an oral antiviral called Paxlovid, was the first to receive emergency use authorization from the FDA in Dec. 2021. It's for treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults and children ages 12 and older who weigh about 88 pounds or more. These are people who are at high risk of severe COVID-19. This treatment should be given within five days of the onset of symptoms.

Merck's pill, called molnupriavir, was approved for emergency use authorization by the FDA in Dec. 2021. It's used to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 infection in adults who are at high risk for developing severe COVID-19. The pill is available by prescription only and is not authorized to be used for patients younger than 18. This treatment should be given within five days of symptoms showing.

Monoclonal antibodies are like the antibodies naturally made by the human body to fight viruses. They are designed to target the coronavirus spike protein. When the antibodies bind to the spike protein, they block the virus from entering the body’s cells. This keeps the virus from making copies of itself and continuing to spread in the body.

Monoclonal antibodies protect against severe illness by overwhelming the coronavirus infection while it's still mostly in the nose and throat. However, the treatment remains limited because it needs to be given within a week after COVID-19 symptoms first appear. This can be an issue because people don't always know when they were exposed or how long they've been infected.

Patients diagnosed with COVID-19 have the option to receive a monoclonal antibody treatment, which has been shown to reduce COVID-19-related hospitalization or deaths in high-risk patients. Early treatment with this therapy can reduce the risks of COVID-19, but it will not protect you against catching the virus. It is also not a substitute for getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

There is also the combination monoclonal Evusheld. It is a long-term antibody used for those who are significantly immunocompromised or otherwise at increased risk for severe disease and are not expected to mount a good response to vaccination (or can't be vaccinated).

Learn why monoclonal antibody treatment isn't a substitute for the COVID-19 vaccine

Remdesivir is an antiviral drug. It targets the replication and progression of viral infections such as the novel coronavirus. It is being tested as a treatment for COVID‑19 and has been authorized for emergency use for people with severe symptoms. However, it’s not yet known whether it is a safe and effective treatment. Experimental use at UC Davis Medical Center suggests the drug could have benefits for very ill patients. UC Davis Health is currently conducting two clinical trials with the drug to evaluate its efficacy.

Vitamin D plays a role in the body’s immune system. It's known to enhance the function of immune cells. Vitamin D appears to slow some of the inflammation that can make COVID-19 more severe.

Supplementing vitamin D may play a role in treating patients with COVID-19. However, the data is relatively weak at this time. It is not a way to treat COVID-19 in and of itself.

Find out more about the link between vitamin D levels and COVID-19

Please talk to your physician about treatments and prevention for COVID-19 before taking anything. Learn more about the FDA’s warning of taking ivermectin for COVID-19

An analysis of seven studies of severely ill COVID-19 patients treated with corticosteroids, including dexamethasone, found the drugs significantly helped reduced deaths from the disease. The World Health Organization now strongly recommends steroids for treatment of patients with severe or critical COVID-19 worldwide, but it recommended against steroid use when the disease is mild. The international clinical trials studied dexamethasone, hydrocortisone and methylprednisolone – inexpensive and widely available steroids commonly used to reduce inflammation and moderate the body’s immune system.

Yes, but perhaps not at the same levels as during the early stages of the pandemic. The National Institutes for Health (NIH) has developed guidelines for adults with COVID-19 who are receiving supplemental oxygen. The NIH recommends close monitoring for worsening respiratory status and the use of a mechanical ventilator, if it becomes necessary.

However, experts also say that when COVID-19 patients require mechanical ventilation, there is risk of lung injury due to the ventilation itself. Physicians are being very thoughtful about the use of ventilators because of those concerns. We have changed our treatment methods as more research becomes available and are trying to avoid using ventilators when possible, due to the negative effects they can have on lung inflammation.

Hydroxychloroquine is an arthritis medicine and anti-malaria treatment that also has been tried as a COVID-19 treatment. The Infectious Diseases Society of America revised its COVID-19 treatment guidelines in September 2021, recommending against its use for hospitalized patients with COVID-19. Hydroxychloroquine may have significant side effects, including reports of serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues, blood and lymph system disorders, kidney injuries, and liver problems and failure.

UC Davis Health is working on effective treatments to increase the survival rate of people with COVID-19. As noted above, we have changed our treatment methods as more research becomes available. We're trying to avoid using ventilators when possible, due to the negative effects they can have on lung inflammation.

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