On Wednesday, Dec. 22, U.S. health regulators authorized the first pill designed for at home use to treat COVID-19. Pfizer’s Paxlovid is reported to head off the worst effects of the virus.
The new treatment comes at a time when new infections and hospitalizations are surging in the U.S. due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
While all the previous drugs authorized to treat COVID-19 require an IV or an injection this at home treatment comes in pill form. Initial supplies of the treatment are expected to be extremely limited though.
Pfizer has stated that the side effects of the pill are mild and boasts a nearly 90 percent reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients “most likely to get severe disease,” AP reported.
Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic told AP, “The efficacy is high, the side effects are low and it’s oral. It checks all the boxes. You’re looking at a 90% decreased risk of hospitalization and death in a high-risk group — that’s stunning.”
Another at home treatment developed by Merck is also expected to win authorization in the coming weeks.
Pfizer’s drug has been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for adults and children ages 12 and older with a positive COVID-19 test, who have early symptoms and who face the highest risks of being hospitalized with the virus. This cohort includes the elderly and those who are obese or have heart disease. Children must weigh at least 88 pounds (40 kilograms) to be eligible to have the drug administered.
Both drugs from Pfizer and Merck are anticipated to be effective against the Omicron variant.
Pfizer currently has a stockpile of 180,000 doses of the treatment worldwide, with the U.S. being allocated roughly 60,000 to 70,000 doses. It’s anticipated that U.S. Federal health officials will ration early shipments of the new treatment to the hardest hit parts of the country.
Wide spread use of the treatment is not expected until next year. Manufacturing time for the drug is approximately 9 months however Pfizer has said that the company can halve the production time by next year.
Health experts are still adamant that vaccination remains the best way to protect oneself from COVID-19 despite evidence showing that the Omicron variant can easily circumvent current mRNA vaccines in use.
Paxlovid however is not perfect. In order to be prescribed the drug a patient needs to provide a positive COVID-19 test and Pfizer says that the drug has only proven effective when it is administered within five days of symptoms appearing.
Andrew Pekosz, a Johns Hopkins University virologist told AP, “If you go outside that window of time I fully expect the effectiveness of this drug is going to fall.”
People hesitant about new coronavirus vaccines and treatments may be appeased with this new development.
Paxlovid is reportedly part of a decades-old family of antiviral drugs known as protease inhibitors. Protease inhibitors are said to have revolutionised the treatment of HIV and hepatitis C. “The drugs block a key enzyme which viruses need to multiply in the human body,” AP reported.
The new treatment also comes with a hefty price tag. A single course of Paxlovid is expected to cost approximately US$500.00. A course of the drug consists of three pills taken twice a day for five days. While two of the pills are the newly authorized Paxlovid the third pill is a different antiviral that assists in boosting levels of the main drug in the body.