The life-saving COVID-19 drug few are using

While Paxlovid is highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19 and death, only a small proportion of high-risk patients take the medication, according to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health.

The preprint study — which has not been peer-reviewed and was first published last summer — examined Paxlovid use among more than 1 million eligible patients between December 2021 and February 2023. Just 9.7% of patients took Paxlovid over the study period, and usage varied greatly by region. Researchers estimated about 135,000 hospitalizations and 48,000 deaths could have been prevented if about half of eligible patients had received the antiviral. 

"I don't know why there is such variability and why uptake isn't higher across the board," study author Josh Fessel, MD, PhD, a senior clinical adviser at the National Institutes of Health, told The New York Times. "If you can take Paxlovid and you do take Paxlovid within the recommended time frame, the likelihood of death or hospitalization are significantly reduced. That's a big deal."

No studies have been done to investigate why so few people are taking the drug, though health experts have pointed to several reasons, according to the Times. Physicians may be hesitant to prescribe the drug, as there is a long list of medications that can have harmful interactions with Paxlovid. Patients have also complained about the drug's metallic aftertaste, and many assume they don't need the drug in the early stages of their illness when symptoms are mild. 

Low Paxlovid use comes as COVID-19 activity continues to rise nationwide this winter. More than 29,000 COVID-19 patients were admitted to hospitals in the week ending Dec. 23, up fron 19,000 admissions in the week ending Nov. 25, CDC data shows.


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