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Can ordinary COVID-19 patients get the Trump treatment?

By JoNel Aleccia, Kaiser Health News on

Published in News & Features

When Terry Mutter woke up with a headache and sore muscles on a recent Wednesday, the competitive weightlifter chalked it up to a hard workout.

By that evening, though, he had a fever of 101 degrees and was clearly ill. "I felt like I had been hit by a truck," recalled Mutter, who lives near Seattle.

The next day he was diagnosed with COVID-19. By Saturday, the 58-year-old was enrolled in a clinical trial for the same antibody cocktail that President Donald Trump claimed was responsible for his coronavirus "cure."

"I had heard a little bit about it because of the news," said Mutter, who joined the study by drugmaker Regeneron to test whether its combination of two man-made antibodies can neutralize the deadly virus. "I think they probably treated him with everything they had."

Mutter learned about the study from his sister-in-law, who works at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, one of dozens of trial sites nationwide. He is among hundreds of thousands of Americans - including the president - who've taken a chance on experimental therapies to treat or prevent COVID-19.

But with more than 8 million people in the U.S. infected with the coronavirus and nearly 221,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19, many patients are unaware of such options or unable to access them. Others remain wary of unproven treatments that can range from drugs to vaccines.

 

"Honestly, I don't know whether I would have gotten a call if I hadn't known somebody who said, 'Hey, here's this study,'" said Mutter, a retired executive with Boeing Co.

The website clinicaltrials.gov, which tracks such research, reports more than 3,600 studies involving COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease. More than 430,000 people have volunteered for such studies through the COVID-19 Prevention Network. Thousands of others have received therapies, like the antiviral drug remdesivir, under federal emergency authorizations.

Faced with a dire COVID-19 diagnosis, how do patients or their families know whether they can - or should - aggressively seek out such treatments? Conversely, how can they decide whether to refuse them if they're offered?

Such medical decisions are never easy - and they're even harder during a pandemic, said Annette Totten, an associate professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology at Oregon Health & Science University.

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