Each week, OMRF Vice President of Research Dr. Rodger McEver opens “Adam’s Journal” to answer a medical question from Adam Cohen, OMRF’s senior vice president & general counsel.
Several people I know who’ve recently come down with Covid-19 have been treated with a drug called Paxlovid. How effective is it, and are there any downsides?
Dr. McEver Prescribes
Approved for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration in December, Paxlovid is an antiviral pill. In clinical trials conducted before the omicron wave, the medication reduced the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk, unvaccinated people by 88% when administered within five days of initial symptoms.
The drug’s use has soared with the omicron surge: A recent analysis estimated that almost half of Covid-19 patients now take antiviral medications, with most using Paxlovid.
Most people don’t experience serious side effects, though some may have diarrhea, muscle pain or an altered sense of taste. (All of these can likewise be Covid-19 symptoms.) The drug also has a bitter taste and can interact with other medications and supplements, so your health care provider may advise you to hold off on those while taking Paxlovid.
Some who take the drug have their symptoms rebound following a five-day course of treatment. However, this seems to occur only in a small percentage of patients, and in most, it hasn’t been severe. In clinical trials, Pfizer, the drug’s maker, noted rebounds in both those receiving Paxlovid and placebo.
A recent observational study in Israeli patients found that during the early stages of the omicron wave, Paxlovid reduced the risk of severe Covid and death in both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients. The new study found Paxlovid most effective in older, unvaccinated or under-vaccinated (non-boosted) people.
Still, taken across all populations, the drug’s reduction of severe Covid and death – 46% – was less than in the initial clinical trial. This is likely attributable both to the newer omicron strain and to patients, outside the strict confines of a clinical trial, starting to take the drug longer after developing symptoms.
How much Paxlovid helps younger, fully vaccinated people remains an open question that researchers are now studying. In the meantime, as a low-risk medication offering the potential to help many – and especially those at greatest risk for severe disease – Paxlovid will continue to see wide use.
Do you have a health query for Dr. McEver? Email email@example.com and your question may be answered in a future column!