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EXPLAINED: Are COVID-19 Pills Effective Against Omicron? Who Can Take The Pill & When?

COVID-19 pills, taken by mouth, are said to reduce the shown to reduce the chances of hospitalization or even death from a severe COVID-19 infection

COVID-19 pills

As the Omicron B.1.1.529 strain of the novel COVID is spreading to countries worldwide, COVD-19 patients now have two new treatment options that they can administer at home to mitigate the symptoms. Among those are the newly authorized Pfizer’s coronavirus pill, Paxlovid, and Merck’s molnupiravir. Both the pills, taken orally,  have shown reduced chances of hospitalization or even death from a severe COVID-19 infection, although one needs a doctor’s prescription to be able to start the treatment at home. These COVID-19 pills come with a catch, reports Associated Press, stressing that medical experts suggest that the pills must be taken as soon as possible in case of a symptomatic infection once any of the signs of COVID-19 start showing. 

Who should take the COVID-19 pills?

Not every patient who tests positive for the novel coronavirus should take a pill. Patients who are asymptomatic must also avoid it. But those with mild or moderate COVID-19 can take the medicine orally by mouth. The pill shall particularly be taken in case of severe COVID-19 infection and must be administered to high-risk groups and people with comorbidity such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes or anyone that is more ‘vulnerable’ and risks a fatal COVID-19 disease.

Of the pills available for treatment, Paxlovid is authorized for children ages 12 and older by the US FDA. But Merck’s molnupiravir is restricted for use among kids as there could be side effects such as sluggish bone growth. Pregnant women are also recommended to avoid taking coronavirus pills as it could lead to childbirth defects.  Pfizer has warned against the pill use for patients of kidney or liver who, in case, contract the COVID-19. Antiviral pills are also not advised for use among hospitalized patients such as those with chest distress and in need of mechanical ventilation. 

When should you take COVID-19 pill?

As soon as possible, within five days of the onset of symptoms, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC recommends. But people are first advised to get a COVID-19 diagnosis soon as the symptoms of COVID-19 appear, Dr. Cameron Wolfe, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University Hospital, says. “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,” he told Associated Press. As soon as any symptom of coronaviruses such as cough, headache, fever, the loss of taste or smell, and muscle and body aches appear, a patient can take the pill. 

How do you get the pills & how long should treatment be?

US is making the pills from Merck and Pfizer widely available for Americans for free. But a prescription first from a doctor is needed to get it. The pills will be available at drugstores, community health centers, and other pharmacies but the supplies are limited and must be used only when symptoms appear. The treatment must not last more than 5 days. 

Will they be effective against Omicron variant?

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said at a press conference that he has a “very high level of confidence” that the company’s COVID-19 pill is effective against the highly mutated Omicron variant. “The good news when it comes to our treatment, it was designed with that in mind, it was designed with the fact that most mutations are coming in the spikes,” Bourla said at CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” “So that gives me a very high level of confidence that the treatment will not be affected, our oral treatment will not be affected by this virus.” Pfizer also said in a statement that basis the study of 2,250 participants the company found that the COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by nearly 90 percent among high-risk adults. 

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