30 December 2021
U.S. health officials recently approved the first drug against COVID-19 that Americans can take at home to reduce the effects of the new coronavirus.
The approval comes as U.S. cases and hospitalizations are rising in some places. Health officials warn of a large wave of new infections from the Omicron version, or variant, of the virus. They are concerned it could fill up hospitals.
The drug, Paxlovid, is made by U.S. drug company Pfizer. It is being called a faster way to treat early COVID-19 infections. However, supplies will be limited for some time.
Paxlovid is a pill – a drug that is taken through the mouth. All the earlier approved drugs against the disease require injection directly into the blood.
Another pill from Merck also is expected to soon gain approval. Pfizer's drug has been praised for limited side effects and high effectiveness.
Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota spoke about Paxlovid. He said: "You're looking at a 90% decreased risk of hospitalization and death in a high-risk group — that's stunning."
Stunning is a term that means very surprising.
The Food and Drug Administration approved Pfizer's drug for adults and children ages 12 and older. The drug is to be given if tests show a patient is infected with the new coronavirus and has early symptoms.
The drug is to be used with those who face the highest risks of hospitalization. That includes older people and those with conditions like being severely overweight or having heart disease.
The drug is not recommended for patients with severe kidney or liver problems. Children must weigh at least 40 kilograms to be able to take the drug.
The pills from both Pfizer and Merck are expected to be effective against Omicron because they do not target a special protein on the surface of the virus. That is where most of the variants' changes take place.
Still, some experts say there are limits to what Paxlovid can do. Paxlovid has only proven effective if given within five days of symptoms appearing. Experts worry it may be unrealistic for patients to identify the disease, get tested, see a doctor and get the medicine within that time.
"If you go outside that window of time I fully expect the effectiveness of this drug is going to fall," said Andrew Pekosz, a Johns Hopkins University virologist.
Pfizer currently has 180,000 treatments available worldwide. The company said it expects to have 250,000 available in the U.S. by the end of January.
Pfizer said the nine-month manufacturing time is the cause of the low supply. The company says it can reduce production time by half in the next year.
The U.S. government has agreed to purchase enough Paxlovid to treat 10 million people, and it will be provided to patients at no cost. Pfizer said it could produce 80 million treatments next year, under agreements with Britain, Australia and other nations.
Health experts agree that vaccination remains the best way to protect against COVID-19. But effective drugs will be important to reduce the severity of infections.
I'm John Russell.
Matthew Perrone reported on this story for the Associated Press. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
pill –n. a small, rounded object that you swallow and that contains medicine, vitamins
symptom –n. a change in the body or mind that shows that a disease is present