U.S. health officials have approved the first-ever pill that can be used at home to halt the severe symptoms of COVID-19.
Across the country, the pace of cases and hospital admissions is rising. Health experts are warning of a tsunami of new infections from the omicron variant that could overwhelm hospitals.
Paxlovid is a faster, cheaper way to treat early COVID-19 infections, though there will be only limited supplies initially. All of the previously authorized drugs against the disease require an IV or an injection.
Merck’s antiviral pill is likely to gain FDA approval shortly. But Pfizer’s drug probably will be the preferred selection due to its mild side effects and superior efficiency, reaching about a 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get the severe disease.
“The efficacy is high, the side effects are low and it’s oral. It checks all the boxes,” said Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic. “You’re looking at a 90% decreased risk of hospitalization and death in a high-risk group — that’s stunning.”
The FDA allowed Pfizer’s approved drugs to be used on children ages 12 and up with a positive COVID-19 test and early-stage symptoms who face the highest risks of hospitalization. This includes the elderly and those with symptoms such as obesity and heart disease. Children targeted for the drug should weigh at least 40 kilograms.
The pills offered by Pfizer and Merck are expected to work against omicron because the medicine doesn’t target the spike protein where most of the virus’s mutations reside.
Pfizer currently offers 180,000 treatment courses worldwide, and US health authorities have allocated approximately 60,000 to 70,000 to distribute early deliveries to the most devastated areas of the country. According to Pfizer, this small supply is due to manufacturing time and is currently about 9 months old. According to the company, production time could be cut in half next year.
The United States plans to purchase enough Paxil to treat 10 million people. Pfizer aims to distribute 80 million courses worldwide in the next year.
Health experts agree that vaccination remains the best way to protect against the COVID-19. Nonetheless, roughly 40 million adults in America refuse vaccination. The effectiveness of the drugs will play an essential role in blunting the present and future waves of infection.