LONDON, ONT. -- When it comes to COVID-19 patients needing ventilation, there is an important piece to the treatment that isn’t often talked about, sedation.

“There’s been a lot of media focus on the need to have more ventilators, but even if we build more ventilators, if we don’t have sedatives we can’t ventilate patients,” says Dr. Marat Slessarev, a scientist at the Lawson Health Research Institute.

In fact many countries, including Canada, have experienced either a shortage or a large decrease in IV sedation supplies during the pandemic.

“Because a lot of the patients with COVID require a long duration of ventilation, the stocks worldwide were getting depleted pretty quickly,” says Slessarev.

That’s why a team of researchers both in London and Toronto have been looking at an alternative form of sedation.

“The obvious alternative is the inhaled agents,” says Slessarev. “We give them in the operating rooms for sedation and they are safe, readily available and pretty cheap.”

Inhalant sedatives are not only widely available, early indicators show that it may also help enhance ventilation treatment for COVID-19 patients.

“The drugs have some anti-inflammatory properties, which for sick lungs might actually accelerate their recovery. There are also some hints that patients may get off the ventilator more quickly,” says Dr. Angela Jerath at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

However, Jerath says it is a different method than a commonly used IV, and one that would require a new way of administering the drug through the ventilator itself.

“It comes in a liquid form and it needs to be vaporized using a special delivery system and there are multiple ways of doing that.”

Currently the team is testing different vaporizing devices, and is undergoing clinical trials with patients across Canada.

The hopes are if proven effective, that this alternative could improve treatments for COVID-19 patients globally.