COVID-19 antiviral pills: Explained

Archive, January, Month

FDA authorized first at-home treatments for the coronavirus.

Just about a year after the FDA granted emergency use authorization to a pair of COVID-19 vaccines, the agency has now given its authorization to a pair of at-home pills to treat the coronavirus.

On back-to-back days, approval was given to a pair of prescription pills to treat COVID-19 in some of the most welcomed pandemic news since the vaccine rollout began.

Like other medications, these prescriptions can be picked up at the pharmacy and taken home so patients can begin recovering.

Antiviral medications from Pfizer (approved on Dec. 22, 2021) and Merck (Dec. 23) are the first treatments of their kind as COVID-19 treatments to this point had to be administered intravenously at an outpatient clinic, such as monoclonal antibody therapy.

Respectively, the prescriptions have been shown to reduce hospitalizations by 89 percent (Pfizer) and 50 percent (Merck).

During a clinical trial of 2,246 high-risk COVID-19 patients, no deaths were reported in patients given the Pfizer medication. The Merck trial resulted in a 90 percent reduction in death.

Who gets it

The prescriptions are not a replacement for a vaccine and booster, and it’s not a measure to be taken to prevent a COVID-19 infection.

Prescriptions are available only to those who have tested positive for the virus (not just exposed to it) and are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. Patients must also be likely to develop more serious symptoms — those with co-morbidities and pre-existing conditions, such as adults 65 and older and those with cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Guidelines require patients to obtain their prescription within five days from when they began experiencing symptoms.

How it works

The medications work as a protease inhibitor, which blocks an enzyme that allows the virus to replicate its genetic material and spread inside the body.

Along with the pill, patients are also prescribed a second prescription to prevent the body from breaking down the protease inhibitor.

Treatments last for five days (two doses per day). Pfizer has been approved for everyone 12 and up (children must weigh more than 88 pounds), while Merck is approved for only adults.

Efficacy on omicron

With the rise of the highly infectious omicron variant, questions have been raised about whether the medication will be effective against it.

The medications have demonstrated an effectiveness against it.

One of the reasons behind omicron significantly increased level of contagiousness is the variant’s mutated spike proteins.

The medication, however, does not target the spike proteins. They target the virus’ mechanism for reproducing.



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