The FDA has issued an emergency approval for Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid, making it the first oral method for treating mild to moderate cases of COVID-19. The treatment is intended for high-risk people aged 12 years and older who could progress to a more serious COVID infection. The best part? The FDA says it could be available for use in a few days, making it another tool as we face the Omicron variant wave.
Paxlovid is available by prescription only and is supposed to be taken within five days of first noticing COVID symptoms. According to Pfizer’s tests, it can prevent hospitalization or death by 88 percent in high-risk patients. The treatment, which can be prescribed to both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, consists of 30 pills taken for five days. It contains the protein inhibitor niramatrelvir and rotinavir, which stop this inhibitor from being broken down in your body. Side effects include a decreased sense of taste, high blood pressure, diarrhea and muscle pain.
“This authorization provides a new tool to fight COVID-19 at a pivotal time in the pandemic as new variants emerge and promises to make antiviral treatment more accessible to patients at high risk of progression to severe COVID-19,” Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.
So far, the US has ordered enough pills to treat 10 million people, the New York Times reports. The company plans to ship enough pills to cover 65,000 Americans within a week. And after that, production is expected to increase, with 150,000 courses in January and 150,000 in February. It won’t be the only antiviral pill, either: Merck’s competing treatment is expected to be approved soon and will likely be more readily available than Pfizer’s. However, Merck’s option is much less effective — tests show hospitalization or death can only be prevented by 30 percent. (Still, that’s better than having no treatment.)
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