Pfizer requests emergency authorization for its COVID antiviral pill

Pfizer announced on Tuesday that it will seek emergency authorization for Paxlovid, its antiviral pill to treat mild to moderate COVID-19, after clinical trials showed that the medication reduced hospitalization and death by 89% in those who took it in the first three to five days of symptoms. 

The pill will only be given to unvaccinated people until more clinical trials are done to see results for those who are vaccinated.

No deaths in trial

No deaths were announced in the trial group that received Paxlovid, compared to the group that received a placebo, which had seven deaths. 27 were hospitalized in the placebo group, but only three in the Paxlovid group.

In addition to treating those who have chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID, the drug could be used to treat those who can’t get the vaccine for medical reasons like autoimmune diseases or allergies to its ingredients.

It is the second antiviral drug submitted for FDA approval to treat COVID. Merck submitted molnupiravir for approval earlier this month, and the FDA has scheduled a meeting to discuss the submission on November 30.

Both antiviral drugs work to stop COVID-19 from replicating in a person’s blood, but molnupiravir does so by creating tiny genetic mutations. Critics of that process worry that it could cause birth defects or problems with pregnancy.

The Pfizer drug has no such mechanism, making it preferrable for women who are or might become pregnant.

Options for the unvaccinated

Over all, the drugs would give those who didn’t want to be vaccinated another option, and could save lives as the pandemic continues.

While cases and deaths have come down nationwide from spikes in early fall, they are still at higher levels than after other spikes, and cases have started to go back up over the last week or two as the highly contagious delta variant has made its way to California on the west coast.

In fact, antivirals and other treatments like monoclonal antibodies may be better options than the vaccines are turning out to be, since their protection against infection seems to be waning about six months after the first shot was received.

Vaccines are still largely protective against hospitalization and death,  however.

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