One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Americans Need a More Comprehensive COVID-19 Treatment Plan
COMMENTARY

April 6, 2023by Ken McEldowney, Senior Fellow, Consumer Action
One Size Doesn’t Fit All: Americans Need a More Comprehensive COVID-19 Treatment Plan
The third meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Body to draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response at WHO headquarters in Geneva. (WHO Photo by Christopher Black)

When consumers buy a hat that says “one size fits all,” it doesn’t mean that it will actually fit everyone the way it is supposed to. Fortunately, consumers looking to buy a hat are not stuck with that one-size-fits-all option, because there are other sizes available on the market.

The same cannot be said for our current array of COVID-19 treatment options. Three-plus years into the pandemic, Americans are still relying on a one-size-fits-all model, when there should be a variety of options. While vaccines have been quite successful in protecting most Americans from COVID-19, we can and should be doing more to protect those who cannot take the vaccine.

While we saw a significant decline in the number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States in 2022, a Kaiser Family Foundation study shows that it was still the third-leading cause of death among Americans. 

The Biden administration understands that Americans overwhelmingly want to live their normal lives and have moved beyond the days of masking and social distancing. In fact, the president is set to officially end the national emergency for COVID-19 in May.

The problem is that two groups are bearing a disproportionate burden from COVID: seniors and the immunocompromised. The vast majority of COVID-19 deaths continue to occur among Americans over 65. Among that group, barely more than 40% have received a bivalent booster.

For many of the more than 7 million immunocompromised Americans, vaccines simply do not work. And, while Paxlovid has shown success in reducing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, it has significant negative drug interactions with many of the medicines taken by immunocompromised patients.

Given all this, the main question is how do we achieve the goal of living with COVID-19 without leaving behind seniors and the immunocompromised? Clearly, we can’t rely only on vaccines and anti-virals. We must expand what is available in our nation’s medicine cabinet.

Early in the pandemic, there was a promising treatment option called monoclonal antibodies. These are antibodies that are similar to the ones our bodies would naturally produce to respond to an infection, except they are mass produced. Monoclonal antibodies are molecules developed in a laboratory that are designed to mimic or enhance the body’s natural immune system response against an invader. For those infected with the virus, this novel treatment gives the immune system — especially weakened immune systems — a fighting chance, since the antibodies interfere with the virus’ ability to attach to your cells.

At one time, there were five monoclonal antibody treatments that were granted Emergency Use Authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, there are no monoclonal antibody treatments currently approved for emergency use, because their effectiveness was undermined by new COVID-19 variants.

With each new variant, it is unknown exactly how effective vaccines, boosters and other treatments will be. That is why it is so critical for the FDA to be flexible enough to ensure that we are keeping up with a constantly mutating virus. 

The FDA could achieve that goal if, as new antibody treatments are developed, the agency considers data from previous clinical trials, rather than making each new treatment go back to square one. This would save valuable time and is the approach the FDA took in approving new vaccines to protect against new and evolving COVID-19 variants.

Viruses are not held back by red tape and they do not wait for government approval before they mutate into deadlier variants. While the quick development of COVID-19 vaccines was a massive success that saved many lives, we have spent much of the pandemic tailoring solutions toward where the virus currently is instead of where it’s going. That needs to change.

Consumers have a right to have as many effective options as possible to protect them from COVID-19 and allow them to live with the virus. This is true whether they are seniors, immunocompromised or just want the ability, in consultation with their doctor, to choose the option that is best for them.

If we are going to live with COVID-19, we should ensure that everyone is given the best chance to live with it. For millions of Americans, it is quite literally a life-or-death proposition. 


Ken McEldowney is a senior fellow at Consumer Action, a national consumer advocacy and education membership organization. You can reach them on Twitter.

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