Americans who contract Covid-19 may soon have another treatment option to prevent the serious disease. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced last week that its pill to treat Covid-19 drastically reduces the risk of hospitalization and death when administered shortly after symptoms of the virus appear. Because the easy-to-take pills can be prescribed and taken at home, the new treatment option could reach more individuals and relieve congested hospitals and medical providers.
“Today’s news is a real game-changer in the global effort to halt the devastation of this pandemic,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and chief executive officer. If approved for use, the drug “has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections and eliminate up to nine out of 10 hospitalizations.”
In clinical trials of antiviral treatment, involving 775 high-risk adult patients, individuals received a course of 30 pills over five days. When given within three days of the onset of Covid-19 symptoms, the antiviral pills reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent. The group of patients in the clinical trial who received the drug had no deaths compared to seven deaths in the group that received placebo. According to Pfizer, an independent board of experts closely monitoring the clinical trial of the drug recommended that the study be stopped early because the drug’s benefit to patients had been so compelling, Rebecca Robbins reports for the New York Times.
“The results are beyond our wildest dreams,” Annaliesa Anderson, a Pfizer executive who led the drug’s development, told the newspaper. New York Times. She expressed hope that the drug “could have a big impact on helping all of our lives return to normal and see the end of the pandemic.”
While experts emphasize that vaccines are still the primary protection against Covid-19, antiviral drugs reduce the severity of infections, especially for high-risk Americans. Currently, the treatment option for people with severe Covid-19 infections includes monoclonal antibody treatments, which are usually given by intravenous infusion in a clinic. Pfizer’s announcement makes the drug the second antiviral pill to show promising results in clinical trials after Merck announced a similar product last month, which is still awaiting approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pfizer’s pill, which will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid, was more effective in preventing hospitalization and death in studies compared to Merck’s drug, reports Matthew Perrone for the Associated Press.
If the drug gets the green light, Pfizer treatment could become available in the coming months, though supplies will likely be limited at first, according to the Washington Post‘s Carolyn Y. Johnson. Both Pfizer and Merck’s pills are designed for high-risk Americans who are at risk for the worst Covid-19 outcomes, such as older Americans and those with certain underlying health conditions. The Biden administration has already made plans to buy millions of treatment courses from Pfizer and Merck.