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

Apr 26, 2022, 11:55 AM | Updated: 12:29 pm

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

Protesters gather on the steps of the Utah State Capitol, at a rally to gain support for removing t...
Associated Press

In deeply Mormon Utah, a push to require clergy report abuse

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Survivors and faith leaders rallied Friday at the Utah State Capitol to demand change to a state law that exempts religious leaders from requirements that they report child sexual abuse brought to their attention in spiritual confessions. “If we as a people, as churches and as a state are failing […]
22 hours ago
FILE - The logo of the International Monetary Fund is visible on their building, April 5, 2021, in ...
Associated Press

IMF fees on war-torn countries closer to elimination

WASHINGTON (AP) — The International Monetary Fund is facing pressure to reevaluate how it imposes fees on loans it disperses to needy countries like war-torn Ukraine — which is one of the fund’s biggest borrowers. The move comes as more countries will need to turn to the IMF, as food prices and inflation internationally continues […]
22 hours ago
FILE - Republican candidate for U.S. Senate Leora Levy talks to delegates at the State Republican C...
Associated Press

Far-right wins in blue states threaten GOP hopes in November

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Republicans have found success in Democratic strongholds like Maryland and Massachusetts when they have fielded moderate candidates who could appeal to voters in both parties. With Democrats facing headwinds this year, Republicans had hoped that strategy could pay off yet again. But Republican voters have nominated loyalists of former President Donald […]
22 hours ago
Millaray Huichalaf, a Mapuche machi, or healer and spiritual guide, poses for a portrait in the Pil...
Associated Press

On Chile rivers, Native spirituality and development clash

MELIPEUCO, Chile (AP) — Mist suddenly arose from the Truful Truful River as it flowed below the snow-covered Llaima volcano, and Victor Curin smiled at the sun-dappled water spray. A leader in one of the Indigenous communities by the river’s shores in the Chilean Andes, Curin took it as a sign that the waterfall’s ngen […]
22 hours ago
Millaray Huichalaf, a Mapuche machi, or healer and spiritual guide, poses for a portrait in the Pil...
Associated Press

On Chile rivers, Native spirituality and development clash

MELIPEUCO, Chile (AP) — Mist suddenly arose from the Truful Truful River as it flowed below the snow-covered Llaima volcano, and Victor Curin smiled at the sun-dappled water spray. A leader in one of the Indigenous communities by the river’s shores in the Chilean Andes, Curin took it as a sign that the waterfall’s ngen […]
22 hours ago
Associated Press

Today in History: August 20, deadly post office rampage

Today in History Today is Saturday, Aug. 20, the 232nd day of 2022. There are 133 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On Aug. 20, 1986, postal employee Patrick Henry Sherrill went on a deadly rampage at a post office in Edmond, Oklahoma, shooting 14 fellow workers to death before killing himself. […]
22 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
...
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?
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
EXPLAINER: COVID-19 pills must be taken within 5 days