President Biden hailed a new pill from Pfizer that has proven highly effective at treating Covid-19, but emphasised that the best way to avoid the virus is through vaccination.
“Last night, we received promising news about another potent, potential Covid treatment: a pill, a pill developed by Pfizer that may dramatically reduce the risk of being hospitalised or dying when taken shortly after infection,” the president said in a national address on Friday. “We have already secured millions of doses, and the therapy would be another tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid.”
Clinical trials at Pfizer have shown that the new pill, called Paxlovid, reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death in Covid patients by 89 per cent, if administered within three days of symptoms appearing. That includes at-risk patients, such as the elderly and people with health issues – and since the pill can be taken at home, it could keep many of those patients out of hospitals.
The development is very “good news,” as the president put it, but he quickly added that the surest way to avoid severe Covid is by getting a vaccine.
“But look, it’s important to remember, we need to prevent infections, not wait to treat them once they happen,” the president said. “And vaccination remains the best way to do that.”
Paxlovid is the second antiviral pill to show promise of effectively treating Covid. The first was a drug called molnupiravir, from the company Merck, which applied for authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration last month.
But according to Pfizer’s trials, Paxlovid appears to be even more effective than Merck’s pill, which reduced hospitalisations and deaths by about half – a far cry from Paxlovid’s 89 per cent.
“The results are really beyond our wildest dreams,” Annaliesa Anderson, an executive at Pfizer, told The New York Times, adding that she hopes the pill “can have a big impact on helping all our lives go back to normal again and seeing the end of the pandemic.”
Pfizer says it cut its trial of Paxlovid short because the results were so strongly positive. The company plans to submit its data to the FDA as soon as possible to apply for authorisation.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to drag on in the US, although cases have fallen dramatically since mid-September. Meanwhile, vaccinations have risen sharply in the past two weeks, from about 789,000 new doses on 24 October to over 1,455,000 on 4 November.
“The pandemic is not yet behind us,” Mr Biden said on Friday. “But within this week’s announcements – vaccines for kids, more adults getting vaccinated, potential treatment for those who get sick – we’re accelerating our path out of this pandemic.”