The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently launched a new website to enlist the public’s support in fighting the SARS-CoV-2 virus: CombatCovid.hhs.gov. The objective of the site is breaking down barriers where people’s involvement is critical to success, such as recruiting eligible participants for clinical trials in the treatment and prevention of the disease, finding plasma donors for antibody-based therapies, and engaging in behaviors that prevent exposure or lessen risk of infection.
While there are countless websites that collectively target these same efforts, this resource is unique in how it manages this information — it is comprehensive in scope and aligned in message. Much like the iconic Uncle Sam “I Need You” poster introduced in advance of World War I, CombatCovid.hhs.gov is a rallying cry that speaks directly to the individual. It communicates how this pandemic is a battle that requires all of us to fight together — and this is exactly how YOU as an individual can take action.
The site first asks people to self-identify their current circumstances. Everyone falls into one of the categories, and everyone immediately learns how they can support the fight:
- If you have COVID-19 now, learn what your treatment options are or how to join a clinical trial.
- If you’ve never had COVID-19, you can join a clinical trial for these vaccines or for other ways to prevent the disease.
- If you have had COVID-19 in the past, you can donate plasma or blood to help others recover.
Supporting Recruitment and Enrollment in Clinical Trials
The COVID-19 pandemic caused major disruption in research teams’ ability to recruit and enroll clinical trial participants, collect data in a consistent and controlled manner, or even maintain consistent supply of trial materials. The FDA responded quickly, issuing guidance on how to conduct trials during the public health emergency, updated most recently in January 2021. This ongoing guidance has allowed many changes in the management of clinical trials to ensure the safety of both participants and clinical staff and the integrity of the research, while also introducing a number of unique accommodations, such as telehealth visits, postal delivery of supplies, and digital informed consent.
While many trials were disrupted, the situation is improving. The February 2021 update of the COVID-19 Cross Sector Impact Report by GlobalData shows 1,016 of the disrupted clinical trials are still paused or delayed, but 915 affected trials are back on track. While this is encouraging, enrolling participants for new trials continues to be a challenge. Considering the initiation of new clinical trials to better understand, prevent and treat the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the same GlobalData report shows there are 4,154 new clinical trials related to COVID-19 underway), overcoming barriers to recruitment and enrollment is more important than ever.
When potential study participants think of COVID-19 clinical studies, they may immediately think of the vaccines that are at the forefront of media coverage — a misperception that can keep people from investigating further. Site visitors quickly discover that there are multiple clinical trials to better understand treatment of the disease, as well as prevention of infection. Again, the site allows individuals to immediately self-identify with a population and read about the trials that are underway.
- Adults who have not been exposed to COVID-19 — testing monoclonal antibodies to prevent infection
- Adult patients who are not hospitalized — testing investigational medicines, medicines approved for other conditions, and convalescent plasma in preventing complications from the disease
- Adults who have been exposed to COVID-19 but have not developed the disease — testing convalescent plasma and monoclonal antibodies to prevent and/or stem infection after exposure
- Adult emergency room patients and adult hospitalized patients — testing investigational medicines, medicines approved for other conditions, monoclonal antibodies and convalescent plasma in preventing progression and death
- Adult patients who have been discharged from the hospital — assessing blood thinners to prevent and treat COVID-19-associated blood clotting
Each trial listed includes the point of contact for more information specific to that trial. The site also reminds those considering participating in trials to consult with their care provider first.
Educating About Treatment Options and Where to Find Them
Many COVID-19 patients experiencing mild-to-moderate symptoms at home, as well as those hospitalized for severe symptoms of COVID-19, don’t realize all of the options available to them.
Educating and encouraging individuals to consult with their healthcare provider about treatment options is part of the battle to reduce the potential impact of the COVID-19. The CombatCovid site specifically addresses monoclonal antibodies treatments and therapeutic cocktails — the laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful pathogens such as viruses — that are still unknown or misunderstood by a significant portion of the population.
The site provides information about these therapeutic options, but it also helps overcome key barriers that keep patients from taking action. For those who may feel intimidated or fearful of the treatments, they can find easy-to-comprehend information on how these therapies work or about the process involved. More importantly, they can learn exactly where they can find these treatments locally and how they can work with their healthcare provider to see if the treatments are right for them.
Given the level of unknowns about long-term or hidden impact of the disease, the benefits of earlier interventions may yet to be fully realized.
Donating Blood or Plasma to Help Treat Others and Further Understand the Disease
People who are recovering or fully recovered from COVID-19 are in a unique position to help others, thanks to the antibodies their bodies are producing. The ability to provide convalescent plasma as a therapeutic option relies on donors. In addition, donating blood or plasma supports ongoing studies of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus interacts with and affects the immune system. These studies could lead to successful prevention and treatment methods in the future, but once again, understanding this and acting on it are two different barriers. The CombatCovid site connects visitors with resources to find local donation centers.
Addressing Need for Diversity in Study Populations
The fact that COVID-19 has had a greater impact on diverse populations is widely recognized — African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, and American Indians/Alaska Natives account for over half of all reported cases in the United States. Leaning why and how COVID-19 affects these populations, and whether certain treatment options may be more successful in treating them, relies on the diversity of study populations. The CombatCovid site includes specific outreach to members of these diverse populations to reinforce the importance of taking action in the fight against COVID-19. It also connects them with the additional resources and information available through the National Institutes of Health’s Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities website.
Turning “We’re All in This Together” into Action
A common refrain during the pandemic has been, “We’re all in this together.” Unfortunately, it can be a hollow observation if we, as global citizens, don’t participate in solutions that can make a meaningful difference in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The CombatCovid site is a powerful platform that enables individuals to go beyond talking and actually take action.