Pfizer says experimental COVID pill PAXLOVID reduces risk of hospitalization, death

Pill appears to be more effective than Merck’s drug

Pfizer said its experimental COVID pill reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%.

Pfizer said its experimental COVID pill reduces the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%.

How is this pill different than the one developed by Merck? On Nov. 30, panel of outside experts narrowly recommended that the COVID pill by Merck be granted emergency use authorization. The drug was found to reduce risk of hospitalization or death by just 30% in the data presented to the FDA’s advisory panel.

Read: Risk vs. reward: US panel narrowly recommends Merck’s COVID pill

Pfizer’s drug is very different, and appears to be more effective as well. Pfizer said its experimental COVID-19 pill cuts the risk of hospitalization or death by 89%. Those updated results come from a study where the pills, called PAXLOVID, were given to nearly 700 unvaccinated people within three days of symptom onset. Only five of them had to be hospitalized and none of them died.

PAXLOVID is given along with an older HIV drug. The treatment includes 30 pills over five days and it’s designed to stop the virus from multiplying.

Among a similarly sized group that received a placebo, 44 were hospitalized and nine people died. Pfizer said PAXLOVID should also be effective against variants because it works by blocking an enzyme involved in viral replication.

That process remains the same, even as the virus’ spike protein mutates. The company has asked the FDA for emergency use authorization for its pill, but the FDA has not yet set a date to discuss it.

President Joe Biden’s administration announced last month it would buy 10 million 5-day courses of the drug. The government will pay more than $500 per course, for a total price tag of $5.3 billion.

Pfizer said it will allow several lower income counties to produce generic version of PAXLOVID, at a much lower cost.

“Another great tool in our tool box, right? But the first thing I want to say is the best way to protect yourself against COVID is to not get it in the first place. And that is to get vaccinated and boosted. If you do think you have symptoms of COVID though, this Pfizer pill, should it move through the FDA swiftly will be another great tool -- but we need to diagnose people early. So, if you have symptoms, go and get tested so that you can get diagnosed,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

Read: Complete Michigan COVID coverage

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Questions about coronavirus? Ask Dr. McGeorge

About the Authors:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.