Can dexamethasone prevent COVID deaths?

Early clinical trial results suggest that a cheap and widely available steroid (dexamethasone) might help save the lives of hospitalized COVID patients. 

The UK-based RECOVERY trial randomly selected 2,104 hospitalized COVID patients to receive a dose of dexamethasone once per day for ten days. Scientists compared these patients to 4,321 others who did not get dexamethasone. All of these patients volunteered to enroll in the randomized study. The patients who took dexamethasone were more likely to survive their COVID infection. 

In the study, the biggest benefit was for patients who were on a ventilator. More than 40% of COVID patients on ventilators died under usual care. But only 27% of patients on ventilators who received dexamethasone died. So the drug reduced their risk of death by about one-third. As for patients who received oxygen only, 25% of them died without dexamethasone. But only 20% of those who received the drug died. So dexamethasone reduced their risk of death by one-fifth.

Importantly, the study suggests dexamethasone does not help people with milder COVID cases, like those who do not need oxygen or a ventilator. So you should NOT buy this drug and use it at home.

Large randomized clinical trials are  the gold standard for showing medications work, but many doctors remain cautious until a study’s full results are shared in a scientific publication. So far, the RECOVERY trial has only issued a press release. But these early dexamethasone results look promising for patients with very serious COVID cases.


Last update: Jun 17, 2020, 1:57 pm ET

Science review: JAB