COVID-19 pills are coming, but no substitute for vaccines: experts
Oral antiviral pills from Merck & Co and Pfizer Inc /BioNTech SE have been shown to significantly blunt the worst outcomes of COVID-19 if taken early enough, but doctors warn vaccine hesitant people not to confuse the benefit of the treatments with prevention afforded by vaccines.
While 72% of American adults have gotten a first shot of the vaccine, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, the pace of vaccination has slowed, as political partisanship in the United States divides views on the value and safety of vaccines against the coronavirus, reports Reuters.
Vaccine mandates by employers, states and the administration of US President Joe Biden have helped increase vaccinations but also fuelled that controversy.
Some disease experts fear the arrival of oral COVID-19 treatments may further impede vaccination campaigns. Preliminary results of a survey of 3,000 US citizens by the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Public Health suggest the drugs could “hamper the effort to get people vaccinated,” said Scott Ratzan, an expert in health communication at CUNY, who led the research.
Ratzan said one out of every eight of those surveyed said they would rather get treated with a pill than be vaccinated. “That is a high number,” Ratzan said.
The concern follows news on Friday from Pfizer, maker of a leading COVID-19 vaccine, that its experimental antiviral pill Paxlovid cut the risk of hospitalisation and death from the disease by 89% in high-risk adults. read more
Pfizer’s results followed news from Merck and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on Oct 1 that their oral antiviral drug cut hospitalisation and death by half. That drug, known as molnupiravir, won conditional approval in the UK on Thursday. read more Both need clearance from US health regulators but could be on the market in December.
“By relying exclusively on an antiviral drug, it’s a bit of a roll of the dice in terms of how you will do. Clearly, it’s going to be better than nothing, but it’s a high-stakes game to play,” said Dr Peter Hotez, a vaccine expert and professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine.
Six infectious disease experts interviewed by Reuters were equally enthusiastic about the prospect of effective new treatments for COVID-19 and agreed they were no substitute for vaccines.