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In December 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization for a new COVID-19 treatment. Known as Paxlovid™, it can help patients with mild to moderate COVID-19 avoid severe outcomes, including hospitalization or death.
If you have tested positive for COVID-19, you may be eligible to receive Paxlovid. You can receive it from a pharmacy if you have a prescription.
What Is Paxlovid?
Paxlovid is an oral COVID-19 treatment that Pfizer developed. It consists of two different types of tablets — nirmatrelvir and ritonavir — taken together.
The nirmatrelvir works to fight off SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The ritonavir blocks your body’s ability to metabolize the nirmatrelvir. This helps the nirmatrelvir stay in your body long enough to battle the virus.
“Nirmatrelvir is an effective antiviral, and the ritonavir makes sure that the nirmatrelvir stays in the blood long enough to kill the virus,” says Erin McCreary, PharmD, infectious diseases pharmacist, UPMC.
Patients with normal kidney function take three pills twice a day for five days. Patients with some renal dysfunction — an estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) of between 30 and 60 — take two pills twice a day for five days. An eGFR measures your kidneys’ ability to filter out blood.
Paxlovid is not a substitute for the COVID-19 vaccine. It is not authorized to prevent COVID-19. It is available as a COVID-19 treatment within five days of symptoms appearing. The best way to prevent COVID-19 is by getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
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Can I Get Paxlovid?
To qualify for Paxlovid, you must have tested positive for COVID-19, and treatment must begin within five days of the start of your symptoms. Other qualifications for Paxlovid include:
- You must be 12 years old or older.
- You cannot need supplemental oxygen above baseline needs.
- You must have a current diagnosis of mild to moderate COVID-19. This can come from a positive SARS-CoV-2 antigen or PCR test. If you can’t obtain a test, you are eligible if you are symptomatic and were exposed to someone with test-confirmed COVID-19.
- You must be at high risk for severe COVID-19.
Conditions that would put you at risk for severe COVID-19 include a body mass index (BMI) of over 25, asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, lung disease, a compromised immune system, and many more.
“These are all chronic conditions that put you at risk of developing severe COVID-19,” Dr. McCreary says. “The EUA allows Paxlovid for a pretty broad list of conditions.”
Some people are not eligible for Paxlovid, Dr. McCreary says.
Patients with severe kidney dysfunction — an eGFR below 30 — are not eligible for Paxlovid. If you have a kidney problem, talk to your doctor to see if you can get Paxlovid.
Also, if you take certain other medications, Paxlovid could cause complications. Talk to your doctor and/or a pharmacist to find out if you’re a candidate for Paxlovid.
Does Paxlovid Work Against COVID-19?
In issuing emergency use authorization for Paxlovid, the FDA referenced the EPIC-HR study.
The study measured the efficacy of Paxlovid in adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were at risk of severe disease. Data showed Paxlovid reduced the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization or death by any cause by 88%.
The EPIC-HR study took place before Omicron (B.1.1.529) became the dominant variant of COVID-19, and it enrolled only unvaccinated patients.
A December 2022 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 by 44%. This study did take place when Omicron was circulating.
Paxlovid Side Effects
In general, Paxlovid is safe to take if you meet the criteria to receive it. You should not take Paxlovid if you have a severe kidney problem, if you take a medicine that interacts significantly with Paxlovid, or if you are allergic to any of Paxlovid’s ingredients.
Common side effects of Paxlovid include:
- Change in taste or bad taste in the mouth.
- Diarrhea or upset stomach.
- High blood pressure.
- Muscle aches.
You cannot take Paxlovid if you had a negative PCR test for SARS-CoV-2. Taking Paxlovid when it is not indicated puts you at risk for side effects and potential drug-drug interactions. It also does not treat an underlying condition that is not COVID-19.
Can I Get Paxlovid at UPMC?
If you have mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, you should get tested. UPMC has testing locations throughout our communities. You need to test positive for COVID-19 before you can receive Paxlovid.
If you cannot obtain a test, you are eligible if you have symptoms of COVID-19 and were exposed to someone who has a confirmed case of COVID-19. Talk to your doctor about your eligibility.
Paxlovid treatment has to begin within five days of your first COVID-19 symptoms. That makes it important to get tested as soon as possible if you have symptoms. Talk to your doctor about getting a Paxlovid prescription if:
- You test positive for COVID-19, or if you are symptomatic and were exposed to someone who has confirmed COVID-19.
- It has been less than five days since your symptoms appeared.
- If you meet the other criteria for Paxlovid.
“The key thing is, anything is a symptom,” Dr. McCreary says. “Any cough, sniffles, anything — get tested. If you’re positive, see if you’re eligible for treatment. And then seek out treatment.”
UPMC is committed to caring for our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information on our efforts against COVID-19, visit our website.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes First Oral Antiviral for Treatment of COVID-19. Link
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Fact Sheet for Patients, Parents, and Caregivers: Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) of Paxlovid for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Link
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