Studies show correlation between drug exposure and COVID severity

March 15, 2022

Analyzing electronic health records (EHR) of 9,748 patients diagnosed with COVID-19, Cosmin Bejan, PhD, Elizabeth Phillips, MD, and colleagues at Vanderbilt University Medical Center asked whether COVID disease severity correlated with any drugs that happened to be taken by these patients in the months leading up to their diagnosis.

Based on EHR drug tables and natural language processing of clinical notes, the analysis took in exposures to 213 drugs and dietary supplements. In addition to deaths, the team looked for correlations with hospitalization, ICU admission and the need for mechanical ventilation.

The team’s report in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics highlights 17 drug ingredients significantly associated with decreased COVID severity.

“With the safety profiles of most of these drug ingredients having already been well established, our intention and hope is that our analysis could provide a springboard for rapid drug repurposing evaluations to help address the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Bejan, assistant professor of Biomedical Informatics.

“As it turns out, several repurposing trials involving these drugs have already gotten underway, which is heartening, our results appearing to chime with a number of other studies showing potential benefits in COVID patients.”

After accounting for patient age, sex, race, ethnicity and other illnesses and conditions, two different vaccines against pneumococcal disease were each associated with nearly 70% decreased risk of death among COVID-19 patients, and tetanus-diphtheria vaccine was associated with 62% decreased risk of death.

“It seems probable that the protection apparently afforded by these vaccines may at least in part be by virtue of their reducing co-infections or secondary bacterial infections that might contribute to COVID-19 exacerbations. Therefore, when recommended, we strongly advocate for these vaccines to not be delayed or discontinued due to the pandemic, as they may help prevent severe COVID-19 outcomes,” Bejan said.

Other drugs correlating with reduced COVID-19 severity included ibuprofen, two additional vaccines, two nasal spray ingredients, a decongestant, a cough suppressant, and various home remedies and dietary supplements, including flaxseed extract, turmeric extract and omega-3 fatty acids.

VUMC Reporter Release

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