Pfizer Says Covid-19 Pill Cuts Hospitalization and Death Risk by Nearly 90 Percent

Though vaccines are still the best line of defense against the virus, the antiviral drug could help high-risk Americans once symptoms appear

A gloved hand holds a pill in front of the Pfizer logo
Though experts emphasize that vaccines are the primary defense against Covid-19, antiviral medicines could be another tool that doctors can use reduce the severity of infections, especially for high-risk Americans. Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Americans who contract Covid-19 may soon have another treatment option for preventing the severe illness. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced last week that its pill to treat Covid-19 dramatically reduced the risk of hospitalization and death when given soon after symptoms of the virus appear. Because the easy-to-take pills can be prescribed and taken at home, the new treatment option could reach more individuals and relieve over-burdened hospitals and medical providers.

“Today’s news is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic,” said Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pfizer. If approved for use, the drug “has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of Covid-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations.”

In clinical trials of antiviral treatment, which included 775 high-risk adult patients, individuals were given a course of 30 pills over five days. When given within three days of the start of Covid-19 symptoms, the antiviral pills cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent. The group of patients in the clinical trial that received the drug had no deaths compared to seven deaths in the group that received placebo. According to Pfizer, an independent board of experts closely watching the clinical trial for the drug recommended that the study be stopped early because the drug’s benefit to patients had proved so convincing, reports Rebecca Robbins for the New York Times.

“The results are really beyond our wildest dreams,” said Annaliesa Anderson, a Pfizer executive who led the drug’s development, to the New York Times. She expressed hope that the drug “can have a big impact on helping all our lives go back to normal again and seeing the end of the pandemic.”

Though experts emphasize that vaccines still be the primary protection against Covid-19, antiviral medicines reduce the severity of infections, especially for high-risk Americans. Currently, the treatment option for those with severe Covid-19 infections includes monoclonal antibody treatments, which are usually given by intravenous infusion at a clinic. Pfizer’s announcement makes the drug the second antiviral pill to show promising results in clinical trials after Merck announced a similar product last month, which is still awaiting authorization from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Pfizer’s pill, which will be sold under the brand name Paxlovid, was more effective at preventing hospitalization and death in trials compared to Merck’s drug, reports Matthew Perrone for the Associated Press.

If the drug is given the green light, Pfizer treatment could become available in the next few months, though supplies are likely to be limited at first, according to the Washington Post’s Carolyn Y. Johnson. Both Pfizer and Merck’s pills are designed for high-risk Americans at risk of the worst Covid-19 outcomes, like older Americans and those with certain underlying health conditions. The Biden administration has already made plans to procure millions of treatment courses from Pfizer and Merck.

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