Why do we need the PROTECT-CH trial when we have COVID-19 vaccines?
Care homes have made major changes and advances in reducing the risk of COVID-19 through introducing personal hygiene measures (“hands, face, space”) and personal protective equipment (PPE; masks, visors, gloves, aprons/gowns). The success in vaccinating residents will further reduce the risk of COVID-19 in care homes. However, the COVID-19 vaccine may not completely stop infection for several reasons:
- No vaccine is 100% effective, so some vaccinated people will still get infected and will go on to develop severe disease. The clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines have shown that between 60% and 95% of participants were protected. It is important to note that none of the vaccine trials tested people in their 80s/90s/100s. The average age of care home residents is around 85 years, so it is possible the vaccines may be less effective in this group, especially since immune function declines with advanced age.
- Although vaccines are likely to reduce transmission, some virus can still be passed on between staff/residents/family to other residents.
If the virus mutates, these changes may further reduce the benefit of existing vaccines. Already, some new variants of the virus appear to be partially resistant to existing vaccines and it is likely that future variants could make this problem worse. Vaccine manufacturers are already preparing to modify their vaccines to make them effective in the future although the next generation of vaccines may be many months away. This is similar to seasonal ‘flu, where a new version of the vaccine is developed each year to deal with recent changes to the ‘flu virus.
Initially we will look at different ways of using existing medications to prevent and treat COVID-19 when present measures (such as hygiene, PPE and vaccines) aren’t enough. The main purpose of the PROTECT-CH trial is to find additional ways to reduce COVID-19 infection and its devastating impact on care home residents.
If the PROTECT-CH trial finds that medications can prevent or reduce COVID-19 infection in care homes, then they may also work to protect the wider community.