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Utah COVID-19 treatment study is in need of more volunteers

FILE - In this Friday, June 12, 2020 file photo, a woman has blood drawn for COVID-19 antibody testing in Dearborn, Mich. Antibodies that people make to fight coronavirus infection last at least four months and do not fade quickly as some earlier reports suggested -- a good sign that vaccines may be able to give long-lasting immunity, scientists are reporting on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020, in the New England Journal of Medicine. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

SALT LAKE CITY – The University of Utah is teaming with Johns Hopkins University to study the best ways to treat the symptoms of COVID-19.  However, their study has hit a major snag, and they need more volunteers. 

Health officials report they hoped enough people would have received the COVID-19 vaccine to reach herd immunity. However, University of Utah Infectious Disease Doctor Emily Spivak said that didn’t happen.

“Unfortunately, [we had] less than ideal vaccination rate, specifically in Utah but across the U.S. and in pockets around the country,” Spivak said. 

Currently, there are 293 people being treated for COVID-19 across Utah’s hospitals with 123 of these patients in intensive care. Officials with the Utah Department of Health report nearly 74% of all Utah’s ICU beds are occupied. 

Spivak said there really isn’t a lot of doctors and nurses can do to help someone sickened by the virus.

Utah COVID-19 treatment study

Spivak explained, “As people probably know, there are really very few effective therapies for COVID-19.”

The University of Utah has been taking part in a nationwide study looking into the benefits of convalescent plasma for several months. This is when researchers take the plasma of people who have recovered from the virus to see if their antibodies can lessen the severity and the length of the virus.

“It’s the part of your blood that has antibodies and proteins that help fight infection,” Spivak said.

However, the number of volunteers in this nationwide study dropped, significantly. They have enough plasma to complete the study, but they need new test subjects to study how well the plasma treatments work. 

To qualify, subjects need to be over the age of 18, recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and showing at least one symptom, but not severe enough to require hospitalization. Anyone wanting to apply can contact researchers at covidplasmastudy@hsc.utah.edu.

Spivak believes this study will help them learn a great deal about how antibodies impact the Delta variant.

“How much we’re able to figure that out really depends on how many people we get to volunteer,” she said.