Pentagon Moves for Faster COVID Treatment

The Pentagon’s Zachary Willis reports that while COVID-19 vaccinations are currently being distributed across the world to begin the process of reining in the pandemic, the threat of contracting the virus remains, and the population still waiting on vaccinations continues to be at risk of infection. However, help may be on the horizon by way of Department of Defense project called “STORM CHASER,” a study being conducted by the Military Health System and the Uniformed Services University’s Infectious Disease Clinical Research Program.

STORM CHASER, which stands for Study To Optimally Reduce Morbidity in Care Homes And Sites with Enhanced Risk, seeks to find out if COVID-19 could be prevented in those who have recently been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 infection by administering an intramuscular monoclonal antibody within eight days of exposure and not yet symptomatic.

If successful, the product could be beneficial for those in high-risk circumstances, such as health care workers, those with COVID-19-positive household members, and restaurant workers. Those receiving the antibody could see immediate immunity and up to six months of protection from COVID-19 from a single dose.

Monoclonal antibody products differ from the vaccines currently being developed and administered.

“Vaccines require time to produce antibodies,” said Dr. Simon Pollett, an infectious disease physician and IDCRP lead for the STORM CHASER trial, “and thus do not offer immediate protection against COVID-19 when given after a SARS-CoV-2 exposure. The antibody product may provide very rapid protection against COVID-19 because it is given while the virus is incubating.”

The antibody therapy is administered via two shots during a single visit to study participants in their gluteal muscles. The scientists are also looking at whether viral shedding, which makes the individual with the virus contagious to others, will be reduced in those who get COVID-19 after receiving the antibody therapy.

Currently, the STORM CHASER study is being conducted at multiple sites including five Defense Department facilities — Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington, William Beaumont Medical Center in Texas, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth in Virginia, and the Uniformed Services University in Bethesda, Maryland. IDCRP is coordinating the study across all five DOD sites.

Study teams at these sites are made up of active duty and/or General services contractor physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and clinical research staff.

Those who have recently been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and who are eligible for care in the Military Health System [including active duty service members] are potentially eligible to participate in this study.

STORM CHASER is set to run for one year, with primary analyses likely occurring much earlier in 2021.

In other COVID-19 related activities, the Defense Department’s first 222-person team have arrived in California and will begin to support a mass vaccination site in Los Angeles by Feb. 15.

Additionally, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin authorized an additional 20 teams to support FEMA at vaccination sites around the country. These teams consist of ten 222-person teams and ten 139-person teams. The smaller teams will be assigned to sites with fewer people who need to be vaccinated.

This will bring the Defense Department total to more than 4,700 personnel supporting, or preparing to support FEMA. These personnel are in addition to the more than 26,000 National Guard members and 3,000 active duty personnel who have been supporting COVID-19 efforts over the last year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 27 million cases and about 470,000 deaths have been reported since the first case was identified in the United States on January 20, 2020. A national milestone in vaccinations was reached on February 11 with about 34.7 million people receiving at least one dose of vaccine, which is 10.5% of the U.S. population.

Frank Vernuccio serves as Editor-in-Chief of the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.

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