What is randomization? How can it help in COVID-19 clinical trials?

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June 30, 2020

Worldwide, clinical trials are being done to answer questions about COVID-19 like:

  • Can a vaccine keep people from getting COVID-19?
  • What’s the best treatment for people who get very sick after being infected? 

What we know about COVID-19 changes daily. Clinical trials will help get the best answers.

Clinical trials find new and better ways to diagnose, prevent, and treat illness. These studies find out if new medical products really work. They also make sure the products are safe for most people to use. Some clinical trials for COVID-19 will use randomization.

What is randomization?

Randomization means that people are put into groups by chance, not by choice. The groups may be given different types of medical treatments to see which one works best.

Doctors and patients can’t pick which treatment a person gets. Randomization is usually done by a computer. This way of putting people into groups makes sure the groups will be alike on important things like age and health status.

Why not just give everyone the treatment that doctors think will work the best?

Many factors might affect how a person responds to medical treatment. For example, an athlete might be in good shape before starting a medical treatment. The athlete may be given the same medicine as someone who has a lot of health problems. The athlete might get better while the other person does not. The outcome might be due to the athlete’s health before the treatment and not the treatment itself.

Randomization can help make sure the effects of the new treatment are real. The goal is to make sure groups are balanced on factors that might relate to the risk of becoming very sick. If a treatment appears to work, researchers can be more confident that the effects are real.

Is it fair to use randomization in medical research?

Randomization is a way to make sure everyone is treated fairly in research. With randomization, everyone who volunteers for a study has an equal chance of being in each group.

Many types of research will be needed to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Clinical trials that use randomization will be one tool to get better treatments to more people as quickly and safely as possible.

To take a deeper dive into how randomization works and why it’s important, check out this video from the United Kingdom Medical Research Council, or this video from the Office of Human Research Protections.

Visit WePartner4Research to learn more about how clinical trials work. There you will find out why research volunteers are so important for improving health, including ending the coronavirus pandemic.

The official name of the virus that started a worldwide outbreak in late 2019 is “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.”  The abbreviation is SARS-CoV-2. When the virus infects someone, the diagnosis is called “Coronavirus Disease 2019.” The abbreviation is COVID-19. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ and ‘D’ for disease.

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