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COVID-19 treatments are not vaccine replacements. Here's why

Ben Sessoms, The News & Observer on

Published in Health & Fitness

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, infectious disease specialist at Duke University, said he would always recommend the vaccine over treatment, if he had to choose.

“If you’re using this or using any oral treatment, for that matter … and assume that’s a way to get away from getting vaccinated, you are fundamentally misunderstanding the degree to which it protects you from hospitalization,” Wolfe said. “They are not that effective. If I could give a person one vaccine or give them a course of molnupiravir, I would give them the vaccine in a heartbeat.”

Vaccines prevent infection

With 55% of North Carolina fully vaccinated — over 5.8 million people — the sample size is large enough to know it saves lives.

A study in August from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services found that those people who are unvaccinated are more than four times as likely to catch COVID-19 and 15 times more likely to die from the disease, The N&O previously reported.

“The vaccines definitely protect against infection,” Wohl said. “You don’t get long COVID unless you get COVID ... and, of course, everything in between, which could be severe infection, progression to getting intubated, requiring a ventilator and dying.”

Wohl said molnupiravir could potentially be used to prevent infection, much as Tamiflu is used against influenza, but that there isn’t enough data to make that determination.

Right now, vaccines are the best prevention.

‘They work best together’

 

Health experts told The N&O that treatment and vaccines should be thought about how they work in tandem, not separately.

“This is a layered approach. Masks work. Distancing works. Vaccination works, and therapeutics work. But they work best together,” said Wohl, who also helped research molnupiravir during clinical trials.

Dr. William Fischer, director of emerging pathogens at the UNC Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases, said the drug will help treat those in countries without access to vaccines and monoclonal antibodies, another treatment that must be given through IV or a shot at a clinic or physician’s office.

That can be difficult to arrange in countries such as the U.S. and impossible in less developed ones.

“You could argue that we have the tools right now to be able to manage this infection. The problem becomes with getting access to these therapies and then globally getting access to the vaccines,” said Fischer, who also led clinical trials of Merck’s drug. “This is really where an oral drug serves as a complement to our current strategies, because it’s able to overcome the logistical barriers.”

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(News & Observer reporter Richard Stradling contributed to this report.)

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