The World Health Organization on Friday threw its weight behind Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid for patients with milder forms of the disease who were still at a high risk of hospitalization.
The WHO recommended Paxlovid over remdesivir, as well as over Merck’s molnupiravir pill and monoclonal antibodies.
Pfizer’s oral treatment prevents hospitalisation more than the “available alternatives, has fewer concerns with respect to harms than molnupiravir, and is easier to administer than intravenous remdesivir and antibodies,” WHO’s experts said.
The new recommendation was based on the findings of two trials involving almost 3,100 patients which showed that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospital admission by 85 percent.
The trials also “suggested no important difference in mortality” and “little or no risk of adverse effects leading to drug discontinuation”.
The WHO stressed the limitations of such antiviral treatments.
“The medicine can only be administered while the disease is at its early stages,” they said.
This means the patients must quickly test positive and be prescribed the pill by a doctor — all of which can pose obstacles for low- and middle-income countries, the WHO said.
Yet Covid pills have been seen as a potentially huge step in ending the pandemic as they can be taken at home, rather than in a hospital.
Patients must start taking their Paxlovid pills within five days of the onset of symptoms — the course then lasts five days.
Remdesivir can be taken within seven days of symptoms setting in, but it is administered intravenously over three days.