Therapeutic treatments (in addition to what we already have for the most sick patients) will arrive before vaccines. When someone contracts the novel coronavirus, his or her body’s immune system launches a defense, including producing antibodies that circulate in the blood to help identify infectious invaders. These circulating antibodies offer some protection against future infection (for how long, we still don’t know). Scientists have now engineered clones of these antibodies — what we call monoclonal antibodies — and they are showing to be effective both therapeutically and to prevent infection. They work by attacking the spike protein of the coronavirus, which is how this virus gets into our cells. Stop that from happening, and the virus can’t replicate inside the body.
Rapid, low-cost saliva tests are also coming, and, as my colleague Michael Mina and Laurence J. Kotlikoff recently pointed out, they are a game-changer. Why? These are like home pregnancy tests but for covid-19. Imagine a test you could take at home every day, that gives you an answer in a few minutes after spitting into a vial and costs only $1 to $5. Such a test would change our ability to slow outbreaks where early detection is everything. It would also help consumer confidence and slow down this economic crisis. Want to go to school or work or a Broadway show? Show your rapid test was negative. These tests are not perfectly accurate, but the counterintuitive part is that they don’t have to be. More important than accuracy are speed and frequency of testing.