WHO has recommended two new drugs for COVID-19, providing yet more options for treating the disease.
The extent to which these medicines will save lives depends on how widely available and affordable they will be.
The first drug, baricitinib, is strongly recommended for patients with severe or critical COVID-19. It is part of a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that suppress the overstimulation of the immune system. WHO recommends that it is given with corticosteroids.
Baricitinib is an oral drug, used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It provides an alternative to other arthritis drugs called Interleukin-6 receptor blockers, recommended by WHO in July 2021.
WHO has also conditionally recommended the use of a monoclonal antibody drug, sotrovimab, for treating mild or moderate COVID-19 in patients who are at high risk of hospitalization. This includes patients who are older, immunocompromised, having underlying conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity, and those unvaccinated.
Sotrovimab is an alternative to casirivimab-imdevimab, a monoclonal antibody cocktail recommended by WHO in September 2021. Studies are ongoing on the effectiveness of monoclonal antibodies against Omicron but early laboratory studies show that sotrovimab retains its activity.
The panel of experts developing the guidelines also looked at two other drugs for severe and critical COVID-19: ruxolitinib and tofacitinib. Given their uncertain effects, WHO made a conditional recommendation against their use.
The two newly recommended drugs – baricitinib and sotrovimab – have been invited for WHO Prequalification which assesses the quality, efficacy and safety of priority health products to increase access in lower income countries.
Meanwhile,Europe has introduced stricter mask rules to help beat the infection surge.
Italy reintroduced an outdoor mask mandate. Spain reinstated its outdoor mask rule on Christmas Eve. Portugal brought masks back at the end of November. Greece has also restored its outdoor mask mandate. The Dutch government recommended a mask mandate for people over age 13 in busy public indoor areas such as restaurants, museums and theaters, and for spectators at indoor sports events.
In France, the outdoor mask mandate was partially reinstated in December in many cities, including Paris. Austria also announced that people must wear FFP2 masks outdoors.
In Britain, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has focused on vaccination, masks have never been required outdoors.
The nearly two-year-old coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 5.4 million lives worldwide, devastated economies and reduced an additional 100 million people to poverty.