What you need to know: Coronavirus cures, vaccines being tested

Editor's Note: Refresh this page for updates and related fact checks about emerging vaccines, cures, and remedies to Covid-19.

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Are bananas, malunggay, or even garlic, cures for COVID-19? Has a vaccine been developed for the coronavirus? You might have seen messages like these in chat groups or social media posts, but as of Tuesday, March 17, there is no cure or vaccine for the virus just yet. (FACT CHECK: Misinformation on novel coronavirus that spreads online)

Fruits and vegetables are rich in vitamins and minerals that could help boost your immune system and the Department of Health (DOH) did recommend eating healthy food to prevent infection. Some traditional or home remedies may also alleviate the symptoms of the virus, like cough.

We can also practice respiratory hygiene and social distancing while keeping up with the many science-backed coronavirus treatments in the works. Here's how close the world's scientists are to finding a cure.

Cures in testing

Scientists are racing to develop treatments and vaccines for the virus, but they won't be released anytime soon. At the earliest, a cure might be developed in late 2020, while a vaccine could come in late 2021. (READ: Coronavirus drugs: Who's doing what, and when they might come)

A possible cure that is being explored is hydroxychloroquine, a less toxic version of chloroquine, which has long been used to treat malaria and amebiasis.

On March 16, French infectious diseases specialist Didier Raoult, head of l'Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection in Marseille, explained in a video a study they conducted using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients.

Scientists from China also published a study on March 9 saying that hydroxychloroquine can inhibit the 2019 novel coronavirus.

The drug is being examined in clinical studies in China and is used to treat patients in some medical facilities in France like Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris.

However, hydroxychloroquine is not an official cure or treatment for COVID-19, as it still needs to undergo a number of tests before it's deemed safe to use for this purpose.

Another cure that has shown early promise in treating some coronavirus patients in China is remdesivir, which was originally developed by American biotechnology company Gilead Sciences to fight other viruses, including Ebola (where it was shown to be ineffective). Gilead is moving ahead with final stage clinical trials in Asia (known as "Phase III") and remdesivir has also been used to treat at least one US patient so far.

Another cure and possible vaccine could come from the American biotechnology company Regeneron, though they haven't released a timeline for when it will be ready. Regeneron developed an intravenous drug in late 2019 that was shown to boost survival rates among Ebola patients through "monoclonal antibodies" – laboratory-produced antibodies that can help the immune system's response to antigens.

While this is still in testing, Regeneron is trying to repurpose an existing drug called Kevzara, which is approved to treat inflammation caused by arthritis. This could help fight lung inflammation, one of the symptoms of COVID-19.

In China, the antivirus drug Favipiravir has been approved for clinical trials for treatment of novel coronavirus pneumonia. It's already been approved for marketing for influenza, the city government of Taizhou in Zhejiang, China announced on February 16.

What about vaccines?

Vaccines for COVID-19 will probably take more time to develop than a cure – there has been no successful human vaccine against any member of the coronavirus family.

Vaccine development also takes longer because scientists have to make sure they're effective and safe. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 6 stages for vaccine development:

  • Exploratory stage
  • Pre-clinical stage
  • Clinical development
  • Regulatory review and approval
  • Manufacturing
  • Quality control

Clinical development is further broken down into 3 phases:

  • Phase I - the trial vaccine is given to a small group of people and tested for safety
  • Phase II - involves a larger group of people and tested for efficacy in its target population
  • Phase III - involves thousands of people and tested for both safety and efficacy

This doesn't mean scientists aren't trying to develop and release a vaccine as soon as possible. It's been reported that there are 35 companies and academic institutions trying to put a COVID-19 vaccine candidate through to licensure and broader use.

Among them are 6 that are being funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an organization set up to accelerate the development of vaccines. As of March 10, CEPI has funded Curevac Inc, Inovio Pharmaceuticals Inc, Moderna Inc, University of Queensland, Novavax Inc, and The University of Oxford.

CEPI's website says all 6 are still pre-clinical, though the first test for a vaccine by Moderna was administered on March 16.

Israel’s Institute for Biological Research is also expected to make an announcement about their efforts to develop a vaccine. Their vaccine candidate however will still have to undergo pre-clinical and clinical testing.

The US is also funding research on a coronavirus vaccine through the Department of Health and Human Services and National Institutes of Health.

Many others aside from those listed above are trying to develop their own vaccine as well.

WHO reminders

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said "there is no evidence that current medicine can prevent or cure the disease," and they don't recommend self-medication, including antibiotics, for prevention or cure of COVID-19.

Despite this, claims about supposed cures and vaccines continue to proliferate on social media. We've listed Rappler's fact checks on these claims below this article.

The WHO also regularly updates their "myth-busters" page, wherein they debunk false claims about the coronavirus. They also suggest exercising the following preventive measures to protect oneself against COVID-19:

  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Maintain social distancing
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Practice respiratory hygiene
  • If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early
  • Stay informed and follow advice given by your healthcare provider

– Rappler.com

Fact checks on supposed "cures, vaccines, home remedies" for coronavirus: