Experimental pill could be ‘game changer’ in treating COVID-19, RI doctors say


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new treatment may be on the way to help bridge the gap in the pandemic.

Pfizer announced Friday that preliminary results show its experimental antiviral pill was found to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 by 89% compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized, high-risk adults treated within three days of symptom onset.

For patients treated within five days, there was an 85% reduction in risk of hospitalization or death.

Pfizer said it ended enrollment earlier than planned “due to the overwhelming efficacy demonstrated in these results.”

Dr. Eleftherios Mylonakis, chief of infectious diseases at Rhode Island and The Miriam hospitals, tells 12 News that Rhode Islanders took part in the trial. While he couldn’t disclose how many, he said residents who have participated in various trials since the early days of the pandemic have played a major role in trying to end it.

“One of the first people who got, at the time, an investigational treatment was an elderly individual who had lost his wife just a few days earlier, and he told me that he didn’t get it for himself. He told me he wants to participate in the trial to help bring treatments for others,” Mylonakis recalled.

There are other antiviral treatments currently available, but none in the form of a pill.

“This is remarkable, never done before, and this indeed can be a game changer because it gives us an option, another treatment that is specific for COVID-19,” Mylonakis added.

Monoclonal antibodies are given via an intravenous (IV) infusion.

Since January, more than 5,500 monoclonal antibody treatments have been administered in Rhode Island, with 151 treatments administered in the past week.

Dr. Philip Chan, a consultant medical director with the R.I. Department of Health, also said if approved, Pfizer’s pill would be a game changer in the treatment of COVID-19.

“What’s so big about this Pfizer medication is it it’s meant for people that aren’t quite sick yet, and in my estimation, is probably going to replace monoclonal antibodies in the future when it comes out,” Chan explained. “Because it’s much easier to administer, it’s really going to be the go-to treatment if you test positive for COVID with mild to moderate symptoms. This is what you would take and especially if you have underlying medical conditions.”

The most recent data from the R.I. Department of Health shows 71.5% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

Rhode Island has started to see an increase in two key metrics in recent days, however.

As of Friday, 102 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in the state, which is up from a recent low of 92 last week. The Health Department says 16 of those patients were in the intensive care unit (ICU) and 11 were on ventilators.

The rate of new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day span stood at 156 on Friday. That rate, which is used to track community transmission of the virus, fell below 130 last week.

The Health Department also reported 270 new cases on Friday and a 2.4% daily positivity rate. No additional COVID-19-related deaths were disclosed for the third day in a row.

In addition to community transmission of the coronavirus, Dr. Chan says the state is starting to see more flu cases.

“There’s been some bigger outbreaks across the state,” Chan said, noting the importance of getting an annual flu shot.

According to Chan, infectious disease experts are expecting this flu season to be more significant than last year, since many COVID-19 mitigation efforts were in place last fall before vaccines were made available.

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