Doctors say Pfizer’s new, antiviral pill for COVID-19 could be a “game changer”

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INDIANAPOLIS — Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer released new data this morning on its antiviral pill that shows it reduced hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent in high-risk individuals.

RELATED: Pfizer: New COVID-19 pill cut hospital, death risk by 90%

Currently, most treatments for COVID-19 are administered through either an IV or an injection. Doctors say a medicine in pill form would increase access to the treatment.

“If you have access to an oral therapy and someone takes it home for a few days early in the course of the disease I mean that’s a game changer,” Dr. Christopher Doehring, VP of Medical Affairs at Franciscan Health, said. “That’s incredibly helpful and if that 90% figure or 89% figure all that that really takes the pressure off hospitals and acute care facilities to manage the most critically ill patients.”

In Pfizer’s data released today, fewer than one percent of patients who took the pill ended up in the hospital and none of them died. In patients that didn’t receive the drug, seven percent were hospitalized and seven of them died. 

Dr. Doehring says while this is great news for the treatment of COVID-19, you’d be better of not getting it in the first place.

“I think the stakes are really high with COVID and so your best line of defense is to have immunity that is vaccine mediated and that’s the safest way to go about getting that,” Doehring said. “Certainly people who have had COVID develop natural immunity but that’s obviously a quite riskier strategy in terms of developing your own protection.”

That’s a point that Shandy Dearth echoes. Dearth is the director of the Center for Public Health Practice at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health at IUPUI.

“Just go ahead and make sure you’re vaccinated and don’t count on this as being the fix because this is just one piece of the puzzle that we need,“ Dearth said. “It is one of the tools in the toolbox. It’s great that we can have this but again vaccination is going to be the best approach for all of this.”

Is my COVID booster the same as the original vaccine?

Dearth says that assuming the pill gets approval we’ll likely be in a much different spot, as far as the virus is concerned, this time next year than we are right now.

“Knowing that we wouldn’t have such a high fatality rate with COVID, with something like this antiviral can help us go back to our normal,” Dearth said. “Again we still need to vaccinate and take those other precautions but at least we know we won’t have these horrible scenarios where we have such a high death rate.”

Pfizer says it will ask the FDA and regulators overseas to authorize their pill as soon as possible. Merck’s pill is set to be reviewed by the FDA at a meeting later this month. 

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