Immunologist: ‘Solution’ to pandemic ‘more effective than vaccine’ should come in 2022

COVID-19: Pfizer boss discusses rollout of antiviral pills

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David Katz, emeritus professor of immunopathology at UCL, told Express.co.uk that an antiviral which inhibits COVID-19’s ability to replicate within the person is needed. While immunisation through vaccination could not be ignored, he said, a viral inhibitor would stop the spread of the virus in close contexts such as care homes and large households.

It would also mean the immunosuppressed – those who have a weaker immune system – could live with less fear of contracting severe illness from the virus.

Professor Katz suggested a protease inhibitor, akin to PrEP medication which protects against infections from HIV, could be used to stop coronavirus from replicating within an infected person’s body.

He said: “You need an inhibitor of the virus itself, that targets the enzymes that this virus uses to replicate – [that] remains what I hope is going to happen during the coming here.”

Last week, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved Paxlovid, a Pfizer-developed antiviral which “works by inhibiting a protease required for virus replication”, it said, alongside another antiviral approved in November.

Professor Katz said that an inhibitor which prevents the virus’s enzymes from functioning to replicate is “really going to be a solution”.

He added: “That kind of inhibitor is going to be much more effective than the vaccine at the end of the day.”

However, Professor Katz cautioned: “Immunisation has to go with the viral inhibitor.

“We mustn’t ignore the immunisation, but it does have to go with the viral protease inhibitors that I’m postulating should come on the horizon.”

A “good place” to test out these antivirals is in care homes, he said, as it would stop Covid-positive carers and residents infecting the elderly, who may fare worse from the virus.

He commented: “Therefore, your spread within the closed context of the care home will be diminished.

“And [in] the closed context of multi-generational families, the same thing applies that you test people, they test positive, you give the rest of the family a viral inhibitor, they then have the viral inhibitors so they don’t test positive, so you can release them from any minimal isolation period very rapidly.

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“It’s an obviously more sensible approach, coupled with vaccination.

“But it’s a more sensible approach because it really will inhibit the virus – really block [the virus] – like PrEP, like the HIV tablets that significant parts of the population are perfectly happy to take.”

At the end of December, Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, suggested self-isolation rules should be dropped so those with Covid can “go about their normal lives”.

He told the BBC: “If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later.”

He suggested this could happen “once we’re past Easter”.

When put to Professor Katz, he replied: “They should be allowed to go about their daily lives, but – there is a but – immunosuppression isn’t only the person on chemotherapy in the first world and the person who’s getting the best possible disease, genetically-molecular-identified treatment for their cancer.

“Immunosuppression also is the person in the third world who is malnourished, who is suffering from other infectious diseases.”

He added: “Immunosuppression is a big issue. People can have low immune system responses for all sorts of other reasons. And we [are] hung up on the on the person having chemotherapy for their cancer, state of the art treatment. […] We bump into immune suppressed people unbeknown to ourselves all the time.”

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