After nearly two years since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized two oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19. While these drugs mark a huge development in the effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, they aren’t appropriate for everyone. Here’s what you need to know about the new pills:
What are the antiviral pills for treatment of COVID-19?
The FDA has authorized two antiviral pills, Paxlovid and molnupiravir, for emergency use against COVID-19. These antiviral pills help the body fight off COVID-19 infection by preventing the virus from replicating any further. Both of these medications have been shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 when taken early on in an infection. A Pfizer trial in December 2021, for instance, found that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk, unvaccinated adults by 88%, while a December study of molnupiravir found the drug to be 30% effective at reducing these risks. Though Paxlovid may be more effective than molnupiravir, your healthcare provider may recommend molnupiravir if you take certain medications or have kidney or liver problems, or if Paxlovid is not available.
Who might benefit from Paxlovid or molnupiravir treatment?
Paxlovid has been authorized for individuals ages 12 years and older weighing at least 40 kilograms, while molnupiravir is authorized for individuals ages 18 and older. However, not everyone in these age groups should be prescribed these pills.
People within these age groups are only eligible for Paxlovid or molnupiravir treatment if:
- They have tested positive for COVID-19 (at-home testing is acceptable), AND
- Symptoms started no more than 5 days ago, AND
- They have at least one medical condition that increases the possibility that they might get severely sick from COVID-19.
These medications have not been authorized for individuals who do not have any risk factors for severe disease from COVID-19 infection.
How are Paxlovid and molnupiravir taken?
Paxlovid and molnupiravir need to be started within 5 days of when your symptoms started. They’re both taken twice daily for 5 days.
What are the side effects?
Most people who have taken Paxlovid or molnupiravir have only experienced mild side effects. Common Paxlovid side effects include an altered sense of taste, diarrhea, increased blood pressure, and body aches, while molnupiravir side effects can include diarrhea, dizziness, and nausea.
As Paxlovid and molnupiravir can interact adversely with other drugs, it’s important to talk to your provider about any pre-existing health conditions and medications you’re taking when discussing COVID-19 treatment options. Your provider may temporarily alter the dosage of your other medications or advise against these treatments entirely.
Do I still need to be vaccinated after treatment with antiviral pills?
These pills are not meant to be a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination, but do work well for people who aren’t up to date on their COVID vaccines. We still recommend getting your COVID-19 vaccine and boosters regardless of whether you’ve been infected with COVID-19 or treated with antiviral medication.
Are there any other COVID-19 treatments besides these pills?
In addition to Paxlovid and molnupiravir, there are two other kinds of treatments available - remdesivir and monoclonal antibodies. Both of these treatments are intravenous (IV) infusions, so they have to be done at a facility equipped to administer them.
These medications can be administered within 7 days of when your symptoms started, and help decrease the chance of developing severe disease from COVID-19 infection. They are also only recommended in people who have at least one medical condition that increases their risk of severe illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19. Depending on your medical history and the length of time that has passed since your symptoms first appeared, your healthcare provider may recommend these treatments for you.
What should I do if I test positive for COVID-19 and want to discuss treatment?
Connect with your healthcare provider within 5 days of symptom onset to discuss if any of these treatments are right for you. One Medical members should schedule a remote visit (billed to insurance just like any other doctor visit) with their primary care provider as soon as possible, or use our app to video chat on demand with a provider 24/7.
For more on COVID-19, see our coronavirus resource center.
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, a national, modern primary care practice pairing 24/7 virtual care services with inviting and convenient in-person care at over 100 locations across the U.S. One Medical is on a mission to transform health care for all through a human-centered, technology-powered approach to caring for people at every stage of life.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. 1Life Healthcare, Inc. and the One Medical entities make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.