Army physicians are turning to drugs approved for other conditions or newly developed treatments such as the antiviral Remdesivir to treat infected personnel.
Infectious disease has always been one of the military’s greatest threats. By its own estimates, the U.S. Army lost almost as many soldiers from the 1918 flu as died on the battlefields of the first World War.
Troops are at risk during an outbreak due to the tight quarters in which they live and work. It is therefore not surprising that all branches of the service – Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard – have been hit hard by COVID-19. The military has also played an important role in responding to the virus, from evacuating State Department officials from Wuhan in January to its current role building and staffing civilian field hospitals and augmenting civilian research teams.
To mitigate any risk, the Department of Defense has enforced rigorous social distancing policies and a military-wide travel ban halting nonessential deployments.
But in addition to measures aimed at keeping people away from sources of infection, the military is also treating active duty personnel who become infected. Because the COVID-19 virus is new, there are as yet no FDA approved treatments. As a result, military physicians are turning to either treatments approved for other conditions or seeking access to newly developed treatments, such as the antiviral Remdesivir, which to date has received FDA emergency use approval only for COVID-19 patients with severe conditions. That presents a significant legal challenge due to existing laws protecting military personnel by recognizing that their obligation to follow orders reduces their ability to provide informed consent.