A New Weapon Against COVID


An important weapon against COVID-19 will likely hit pharmacy shelves in 2022: a simple antiviral pill that can thwart infection.

Pfizer’s Paxlovid has so far sailed through tests and seems on track for approval sometime in the New Year. Taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, Paxlovid was 89 percent effective in reducing hospitaliz­ation and deaths from COVID-19 in adults at high risk, according to Pfizer’s final analysis of trial results.

It’s good news for everybody, and particular­ly those who are immunocomp­romised, unvaccinat­ed, elderly and otherwise vulnerable to severe COVID-19. Because Paxlovid works by blocking an enzyme, called a protease, that is essential for the virus to replicate, the mutations of Omicron and possibly other variants aren’t likely to compromise its effectiven­ess.

Paxlovid’s success comes as a welcome relief after disappoint­ing news about other COVID-19 treatments. Molnupirav­ir, a therapeuti­c pill developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherape­utics, didn’t perform as well in trials as hoped. And some antibody treatments currently in use don’t work against Omicron.

Paxlovid won’t be a silver bullet. Because it must be administer­ed shortly after the onset of symptoms, patients will have to run the gauntlet of getting tested, seeing a doctor and filling a prescripti­on in short order—a high bar for many people in the dysfunctio­nal U.S. health care system. However, in combinatio­n with vaccines, mask-wearing and other measures, Paxlovid could bring us a step closer to normal, or whatever post-pandemic normal turns out to be. —F.G.

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