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Pfizer Pill Becomes 1st Authorized At-Home COVID Treatment

Pfizer Pill Becomes 1st Authorized At-Home COVID Treatment

U.S. health regulators on Wednesday authorized the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug that Americans will be able to take at home to head off the worst effects of the virus. The long-awaited milestone comes as U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths are all rising and health officials warn of a tsunami of new infections from the omicron variant that could overwhelm hospitals.

President Joe Biden said the pill marks a “significant step forward in our path out of the pandemic” and said his administration will work with states to ensure equitable distribution.

The drug, Paxlovid, is a faster way to treat early COVID-19 infections, though initial supplies will be extremely limited. All of the previously authorized drugs against the disease require an IV or an injection.

An antiviral pill from Merck also is expected to soon win authorization. But Pfizer’s drug is all but certain to be the preferred option because of its mild side effects and superior effectiveness, including a nearly 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to get the virus.

Federal health officials are expected to ration early shipments to the hardest-hit parts of the country. Pfizer said the small supply is due to the manufacturing time — currently about nine months. The company says it can halve production time next year.

The U.S. government has agreed to purchase enough Paxlovid to treat 10 million people, and it will be provided free to patients. Pfizer says it’s on track to produce 80 million courses globally next year, under contracts with the U.K., Australia, and other nations.

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Patients will need a positive COVID-19 test to get a prescription. And Paxlovid has only proven effective if given within five days of symptoms appearing. With testing supplies stretched, experts worry it may be unrealistic for patients to self-diagnose, get tested, see a physician and pick up a prescription within that narrow window.

The U.S. is now reporting more than 140,000 new infections daily and federal officials warn that the omicron variant could send case counts soaring. Omicron has already whipped across the country to become the dominant strain, federal officials confirmed earlier this week.

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