COVID-19 treatments

While there are some medicines that have been found to be effective for people with COVID-19, many others have been suggested as treatments but there is still a lack of evidence to support their use. Find out which is which here.

What medicines are recommended for treating COVID-19?

The following medicines have shown to be effective for people with COVID-19. These are generally supportive treatments, which means they improve symptoms or reduce time to recovery. They do not cure the infection. 

Paracetamol

Paracetamol is an effective treatment for pain and fever in people with COVID-19. There are reports on social media that paracetamol can “cure” COVID-19. There is no scientific evidence to support this. Read more about paracetamol.

Note: Paracetamol is only used to improve symptoms of pain and fever and it does not protect you from COVID-19. You need to follow the usual steps to prevent infection or stop the spread of COVID-19, such as handwashing, social distancing and mask wearing. 

Steroids

Steroids (also called corticosteroids) have several uses, such as reducing inflammation. Steroids are available in many forms, as inhalers, creams and nasal sprays as well as tablets and injections.

Dexamethasone injection has shown to be effective in people who are critically ill with severe COVID-19 infection who require oxygen or ventilation. Evidence does not support starting steroids for milder COVID-19 infection. If you are prescribed steroids for chronic conditions such as arthritis, asthma or COPD, you should continue taking them as prescribed by your doctor. Read more about steroids.

Remdesivir

Remdesivir is an antiviral medicine that is used for a range of viruses. It may reduce time to recovery in hospitalised patients with severe COVID-19 who require oxygen therapy.

What medicines are NOT recommended for COVID-19?

Medicines lacking evidence as a treatment or prevention against COVID-19
The medicines below are based either on a theoretical action, or have ‘in-vitro’ data only (studies have occurred only in the laboratory, not yet in humans) or they have weak observational data. None of them can be recommended for general use against COVID-19 at this stage.
  • Hydroxychloroquine 
    In New Zealand hydroxychloroquine is only funded for people with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or malaria. There is no evidence it is effective in treating COVID-19. Read more about hydroxychloroquine.
  • Azithromycin
    Azithromycin is an antibiotic used for infections caused by bacteria including some chest infections. There is no evidence it is effective in treating COVID-19. Read more about azithromycin.
  • Ivermectin
    Ivermectin is used to treat parasite infections such as round worms. A report by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), (February 2021) concludes that there are insufficient data to recommend either for or against the use of ivermectin for the treatment of COVID-19. Results from adequately powered, well-designed, and well-conducted clinical trials are needed to provide more specific, evidence-based guidance on the role of ivermectin in the treatment of COVID-19.
  • BCG vaccine
    BCG vaccine is also called tuberculosis (TB ) vaccine. It protects against severe forms of TB by helping your immune system fight TB. There is no evidence it is effective in treating COVID-19. Read more about BCG vaccine
  • Vitamin C
    There is currently insufficient evidence to support the use of vitamin C in the management of COVID-19, but clinical trials using intravenous high-dose vitamin C in patients hospitalised with COVID-19 are underway. Vitamin C may be helpful for preventing the common cold in people doing intense physical exercise (such as marathon runners), or people living in cold climates. However, for the general population taking daily vitamin C has not been proven to reduce the risk of getting a cold. There is no evidence it is effective in treating COVID-19. Read more about cough and cold medicines.
  • Zinc
    Zinc is a trace mineral with many important functions including wound healing and immune system support. There is no evidence that zinc supplements are effective in treating COVID-19. Read more about zinc.
  • Herbal, homeopathic or natural remedies including Chinese medicines
    Don’t take herbal, homeopathic or natural remedies, including Chinese medicines without checking with your pharmacist. They may interact with your regular medicines and can be harmful. There are none that are clinically proven to be effective against COVID-19.

What about vitamin D and COVID-19?

Although there is some evidence of an association between vitamin D deficiency and increased severity of COVID-19, vitamin D supplementation is only recommended for people with vitamin D deficiency, or those at risk of deficiency, such as older people who are frail, housebound or living in residential care, people with dark skin pigmentation or people with obesity, chronic kidney disease, liver failure or another medical condition that affects vitamin D metabolism. Read more about vitamin D.

References

  1. Medicines and COVID-19 Christchurch Medicines Information Service, NZ, 2020
  2. Therapeutic management of patients with COVID-19 National Institutes of Health, US
  3. Final report confirms remdesivir benefits for COVID-19 National Institutes of Health, US
  4. Caution about laboratory COVID-19 report Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
  5. Griffin G, Hewison M, Hopkin J et al. Vitamin D and COVID-19: evidence and recommendations for supplementation Royal Society Open Science. Dec 2020; 7(12). 
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 14 Jan 2021