COVID Antivirals Like Paxlovid ‘Vastly Underused' During Pandemic, Study Says

COVID-19 Paxlovid pills
Pfizer via AP

Despite clinical trials showing that it could significantly reduce the risk of death in COVID patients, studies have shown that antivirals like Paxlovid are being “vastly underused” during the pandemic.

The study, conducted by a consortium of universities that includes Northwestern, Northeastern, Harvard and Rutgers, found that only 11% of surveyed COVID patients were prescribed an antiviral therapy as part of their treatment.

“The lack of use likely reflects poor knowledge about availability, and also general fatigue – that has also left booster shot (uptake) notably low,” political scientist James Druckman said in a statement.

According to Northwestern, more than 24,000 individuals were polled during the survey. Of those, 43% said that they had been diagnosed with COVID during 2022. Of that group, only 11% said that they had been prescribed an antiviral therapy.

Researchers say that in addition to lack of public awareness and general fatigue surrounding the pandemic, the fact that the treatments must be started within the first five days after the onset of symptoms could potentially contribute to low uptake numbers.

“It would be very helpful if medical practitioners and providers made a more concerted effort to inform patients about antivirals and to clarify the benefits,” Druckman said.

Adults over the age of 65 had a slightly higher uptake rate of 20%. Individuals with higher incomes of more than $100,000 were more likely to take the treatments than those who were earning less than $25,000, according to the survey.

Clinical trials, conducted before FDA approval, showed that the use of Paxlovid, an antiviral produced by Pfizer, could reduce the risk of death in COVID patients by as much as 89%.

Those studies were limited to those who had not been previously vaccinated against COVID, however.

Another significant caveat was added to the mix on Wednesday as a new Israeli study indicated that the treatment provided “little or no benefit” in terms of avoiding hospitalization among adults between the ages of 40 and 65.

Adults over the age of 65 did see a 75% reduction in hospitalizations when prescribed the treatment, according to the study.

U.S. officials do caution that the Israeli study did have significant limitations, including the use of system-wide data rather than conducting a randomized study with a control group.

Paxlovid has been authorized by the FDA for use in patients who are over the age of 12 and are considered at high-risk for COVID complications due to conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Older adults have also been encouraged to take the treatment.

Paxlovid is taken in a five-day sequence, with patients taking three pills in each of two daily doses.

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