[Originally published: March 10, 2022. Updated: August 1, 2022]
Note: Information in this article was accurate at the time of original publication. Because information about COVID-19 changes rapidly, we encourage you to visit the websites of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and your state and local government for the latest information.
Paxlovid is the latest COVID-19 treatment that’s been all over the news. The drug was granted an emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December for anyone ages 12 and older who weighs at least 88 pounds, and is at high risk for severe disease.
Paxlovid is an oral antiviral pill that can be taken at home to help keep high-risk patients from getting so sick that they need to be hospitalized. So, if you test positive for the coronavirus and you are eligible to take the pills, you can take them at home and lower your risk of going to the hospital.
The drug, developed by Pfizer, has a lot of positives: It had an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization and death in the clinical trial that supported the EUA, a number that was high enough to prompt the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to prioritize it over other COVID-19 treatments; and it’s cheaper than many other COVID-19 drugs (it’s provided for free by the U.S. government while there is a public health emergency); and, perhaps most reassuring, it is expected to work against the Omicron variant.
“I think it is the beginning of a ‘game-changer,’” says Scott Roberts, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist. “It’s really our first efficacious oral antiviral pill for this virus. It shows clear benefit, and it really can prevent hospitalization and death in people who are at high risk.”
It’s important to note that Paxlovid (the brand name for the drug, which is made up of two generic medications—nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) isn’t the only pill available to treat COVID-19. The FDA also granted an EUA in December to a pill from Merck called molnupiravir (Lagevrio), but some studies suggest that molnupiravir has only a 30% reduction in the risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
And as far as convenience, this medication is considered an improvement over treatments like remdesivir (approved by the FDA in October 2020), which is administered by intravenous (IV) injection.
We asked Yale Medicine infectious diseases experts common questions about Paxlovid. Below are their responses.