EXPLAINER: COVID-19 pills must be taken within 5 days

Apr 26, 2022, 11:55 AM | Updated: 12:29 pm
FILE - In this photo provided by Pfizer, a technician handles one of the company's COVID-19 Paxlovi...

FILE - In this photo provided by Pfizer, a technician handles one of the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills. COVID-19 patients have two new treatment options that can be taken at home. But that convenience comes with a catch: The pills have to be taken as soon as possible once symptoms appear. U.S. regulators authorized the pills from Pfizer and Merck late 2021. (Pfizer via AP, File)

(Pfizer via AP, File)

Newly infected COVID-19 patients have two treatment options that can be taken at home. But that convenience comes with a catch: The pills have to be taken as soon as possible once symptoms appear.

The challenge is getting tested, obtaining a prescription and starting the pills in a short window.

U.S. regulators authorized Pfizer’s pill, Paxlovid, and Merck’s Lagevrio late last year. In high-risk patients, both were shown to reduce the chances of hospitalization or death from COVID-19, although Pfizer’s was much more effective.

A closer look:

WHO SHOULD TAKE THESE PILLS?

The antiviral pills aren’t for everyone who gets a positive test. They are intended for those with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are more likely to become seriously ill. That includes older people and those with other health conditions like heart disease, cancer or diabetes that make them more vulnerable.

Both pills were OK’d for adults, while Paxlovid also is authorized for children ages 12 and older.

WHO SHOULDN’T TAKE THESE PILLS?

Merck’s Lagevrio is not authorized for children because it might interfere with bone growth. It also isn’t recommended for pregnant women because of the potential for birth defects.

Pfizer’s pill isn’t recommended for patients with severe kidney or liver problems. It also may not be the best option for some because it may interact with other medications.

The antiviral pills aren’t authorized for people hospitalized with COVID-19.

WHAT’S THE TREATMENT WINDOW?

The pills have to be started as soon as possible, within five days of the start of symptoms. Cough, headache, fever, the loss of taste or smell and muscle and body aches are among the more common signs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a website to check your symptoms.

Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital, advises getting a test as soon as you have symptoms of COVID-19.

“If you wait until you have started to get breathless, you have already to a large extent missed the window where these drugs will be helpful,” Wolfe said.

WHERE CAN YOU GET THE PILLS?

Pharmacies, community health centers, hospitals and urgent care centers are among the sites stocking the antiviral pills, but prescriptions must come from a doctor or other authorized health worker.

The oral treatments are currently available in about 20,000 locations around the country, but President Joe Biden’s administration expects that total to jump to around 40,000 in the next few weeks.

The administration also is working to expand the number of sites that can test patients and then provide the treatments in one visit. There are currently 2,200 of these so-called test-to-treat sites, including all 1,200 MinuteClinic locations inside CVS drugstores. Patients can find find test-to-treat locations by checking the U.S. government’s COVID.gov website.

Supplies of the pills were limited initially, but ample amounts are now available.

ARE THERE OTHER OPTIONS FOR NEW COVID-19 PATIENTS?

Yes, but it isn’t as easy to use as a pill.

In February, the Food and Drug Administration authorized a new injected drug from Eli Lilly, bebtelovimab, that targets the omicron variant with virus-fighting antibodies. Regulators cleared that drug for adults and adolescent patients with mild-to-moderate cases of COVID-19 who are at high risk of hospitalization and death.

Earlier this year, regulators revoked emergency use authorization for another Lilly treatment and drugs from Regeneron and GlaxoSmithKline because they were no longer effective against the evolving virus.

WHAT OTHER TREATMENTS MIGHT BE COMING?

Japanese drugmaker Shionogi is testing another antiviral pill.

Unlike Paxlovid, the company’s drug does not require taking a second antiviral to boost its effectiveness against COVID-19. That could reduce some of the potential drug interaction problems associated with the Paxlovid combination.

The Shionogi drug is also designed to be taken once daily for five days. That’s simpler than Paxlovid’s dosing, which must be taken twice daily for five days.

In mid-stage testing Shionogi said its drug significantly reduced COVID-19 viral levels and shedding in patients treated within five days of symptoms. The company is conducting a large global study in patients with increased risk of hospitalization or death due to age or other health issues. Early results from that study — which is being funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health — are expected by the fall.

The company has already requested approval in Japan and plans to also file applications with regulators in the U.S. and Europe.

___

AP Health Writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this report. Follow Tom Murphy on Twitter at @thpmurphy.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

A law enforcement officer inspects the scene of an Amtrak train which derailed after striking a dum...
Associated Press

3 killed, dozens hurt in Amtrak train crash in Missouri

MENDON, Mo. (AP) — An Amtrak passenger train traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago struck a dump truck Monday in a remote area of Missouri, killing three people and injuring dozens more as rail cars tumbled off the tracks and landed on their sides, officials said. Two of those killed were on the train and […]
20 hours ago
FILE - The drug misoprostol sits on a gynecological table at Casa Fusa, a health center in Buenos A...
Associated Press

Instagram and Facebook remove posts offering abortion pills

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facebook and Instagram have begun promptly removing posts that offer abortion pills to women who may not be able to access them following a Supreme Court decision that stripped away constitutional protections for the procedure. Such social media posts ostensibly aimed to help women living in states where preexisting laws banning abortion […]
20 hours ago
Police block the scene where a semitrailer with multiple dead bodies were discovered, Monday, June ...
Associated Press

AP source: At least 40 found dead in back of tractor trailer

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — A U.S. official says at least 40 people have been found dead inside a tractor-trailer in a presumed migrant smuggling attempt in South Texas. The official says 15 others in the truck were taken to hospitals in the San Antonio, where the bodies were found Monday. The official spoke to The […]
20 hours ago
In this image from video released by the House Select Committee, John Eastman, a lawyer for former ...
Associated Press

Lawyer who advised Trump says federal agents seized phone

WASHINGTON (AP) — A conservative lawyer who aided former President Donald Trump’s efforts to undo the 2020 election results and who has been repeatedly referenced in House hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the Capitol said in a court filing Monday that federal agents seized his cell phone last week. John Eastman said […]
20 hours ago
FILE - Police tape blocks the entrance to the Castro Muni Metro train station following a shooting ...
Associated Press

Attorney: Man involved in train killing shot in self-defense

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A man who shot and killed a passenger on a San Francisco subway commuter train will be charged with gun crimes but not homicide in what was “clearly” a case of self-defense after he was attacked with a knife, his attorney said Monday. Javon Green, 26, will face charges of having […]
20 hours ago
Associated Press

Mary Mara, TV actor for decades, dies in apparent drowning

CAPE VINCENT, N.Y. (AP) — Mary Mara, who appeared on television shows including “Ray Donovan,” “Dexter” and “ER” in an acting career that spanned more than 30 years, has died in what New York authorities said appeared to be a drowning accident. The New York State Police said Monday a woman identified as Mara, 61, […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Vaccines are safe if you are pregnant or breastfeeding

Are you pregnant? Do you have a friend or loved one who’s expecting?
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Canvas Annuity

The secret to guaranteed retirement income

Annuities aren’t really a secret, but they are so misunderstood that they might as well be. Once you understand what an annuity is and how it can benefit you, you could decide this “secret” is the perfect supplement to your retirement plan.
EXPLAINER: COVID-19 pills must be taken within 5 days