PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — As the omicron variant fuels a surge in cases in Rhode Island, a new treatment option has arrived, albeit in short supply, to prevent those at high-risk for severe COVID-19 from getting hospitalized or dying.
Two pills, one developed by Pfizer and the other by drug maker Merck, are said to reduce the risk of COVID-19-related hospitalization or death.
Clinical data showed Pfizer’s pill, called Paxlovid, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% within three days of symptom onset and 88% within five days of symptom onset, compared to the placebo.
However, Merck concluded in a final analysis its pill only reduced the risk of hospitalization and death among high-risk patients by 30%, down from an previous estimate of 50%.
Dr. Ralph Rogers, an infectious disease specialist with Lifespan, tells 12 News he and other local doctors have been prescribing the at-home treatment courses in Rhode Island since last week, adding that they are in limited supply for the moment.
“These are kind of trickling out from the federal government to the state from the state, to a few different pharmacies in the area,” Rogers said.
Rogers said Pfizer’s pill, Paxlovid, is currently out of stock across the state.
“We should be getting, I think, another supply of that next week, but it’s just the same kind of thing – a limited resource. Use it wisely for the folks who really need it,” Rogers added.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Paxlovid is intended for use in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older weighing about 88 pounds) who test positive for COVID and those who are at high risk for severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death.
“Folks who are immunocompromised, folks who have comorbidities that would put them at risk for severe disease [or] progressive disease, because those are the folks we’re thinking this might provide the most benefit to,” Rogers said.
The pills are most effective when taken earlier in one’s diagnosis of a positive COVID-19 result, typically within a five day window.
“It’s a viral infection, so after a few days, a lot of these medicines aren’t necessarily too effective anymore,” Rogers said.
President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced the United States is doubling its order for Pfizer’s pill, from 10 million to 20 million treatment courses.
“They’re a game changer and have the potential to dramatically alter the impact of COVID-19, the impact it’s had on this country and our people,” Biden said of the pills.
The oral antiviral treatments are arriving as monoclonal antibody treatments, known as mAbs, are in short supply for a number of reasons.
Data shows two of the three treatments authorized for use in the United States are not as effective against the omicron variant, which is rapidly becoming the dominant strain of COVID-19.
Rogers said infusion treatment centers are using the treatment developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, Inc.
The companies report preclinical studies demonstrate the treatment, “retains activity against the full combination of mutations in the spike protein of the omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant.”
“Even beyond that, you know, [there are] limited seats and infusion centers to get it,” Rogers said. “So, we have it around. That’s a limited resource a lot of us are prescribing it to folks and getting them in to get it as soon as we can.”
The Rhode Island Department of Health started providing data on mAbs treatments the week of Oct. 21.
As of Dec. 29, there have been more than 7,500 treatments administered in total, according to the data.
Rogers said the best course of action to fight COVID-19 is to first get vaccinated and boosted against the virus.
“It’s going to reduce your risk of progressive disease, disease bad enough to get you in the hospital,” he said.