Doctors discuss Paxlovid, new COVID-19 drug and its availability as cases spike locally

Posted at 1:32 PM, Jan 05, 2022

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - According to the Virginia Department of Health, 1.1 million Virginians have now contracted COVID-19.

Cases and hospitalizations are climbing daily in Hampton Roads due to the omicron variant, with nearly 11,000 new cases being reported on Wednesday alone.

Several antiviral pills recently received emergency use authorization from the FDA to help the fight against COVID-19. Local experts say the pills could change the way COVID-19 is treated.

"I think this is going to be a major player as to how we treat COVID-19 going forward," said Dr. Patrick Jackson, an infectious disease expert with the University of Virginia.

Jackson is referring to the Pfizer drug Paxlovid, which could help prevent hospitalizations in people with COVID-19.

"It can be given to patients with a high risk of progressive or severe COVID-19 within the first five days of symptoms," he said.

Studies show the drug can reduce hospital stays by 89% if taken within the first three days a patient shows symptoms. It's prescription-only, with two pills taken three times a day.

"The key is going to be getting access to this drug since we don’t have very much of it. The other part is making sure you can get diagnosed with COVID-19 quickly, so testing is a big part of this," Jackson explained.

Hospitals in our area, such as Sentara, the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters and Riverside Regional Medical Center don't actually have the drug, but area pharmacies are receiving Paxlovid in very limited doses.

"We started pushing information to doctors last week so they can then work with patients who qualify," said Cindy Williams, the chief pharmacy officer with Riverside Health System.

Riverside Regional, for example, can't treat patients with Paxlovid, as it's only outpatient. However, the hospital is treating COVID-19 with two antibody injection drugs, which are still in short supply.

"For example, this week the hospital is only getting 1,200 doses of injectable antibody drugs," Williams said.

The FDA says Paxlovid is not for pre- or post-exposure prevention of COVID-19.

"Prevention is better than cure, so this in no way should be an alternative to vaccination, just an additional measure for those with a high risk of getting so sick they have to be hospitalized for COVID-19," Jackson said.

Another drug, Molnupirvir by Merck, was also approved for Emergency Authorized Use for COVID-19.

Related: Dr. Marik resigns from position at EVMS in midst of legal battle with Sentara over use of ivermectin

You can find Paxlovid through the VDH’s COVID drug locator site by clicking here.

Possible side effects of Paxlovid include dysgeusia (altered or impaired sense of taste), diarrhea, increased blood pressure and myalgia (muscle aches).

Nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, which comprise Paxlovid, also interact with other medicines, which may lead to serious or life-threatening adverse reactions.

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