Antiviral Pills for COVID-19 Are in Short Supply. Here’s How to Get Them

Experts say

A close up look at the label for Pfizer's Paxlovid medication.

Over 2 years into the COVID-19 pandemic there are now better treatments for the disease, including two antiviral pills.

Despite other treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies, these oral medications promised something that had been missing in the treatment regimen — an oral at-home therapy to help prevent progression to severe illness.

But currently, demand is far outpacing supply for these drugs, which can leave people with COVID-19 stuck trying to figure out if they are able to get them to decrease their risk of severe disease.

We talked to experts about what to do if you have COVID-19 and want to get this antiviral treatment.

How well do they work?

Antiviral pills from Pfizer are called Paxlovid, and those from Merck are currently known as molnupiravir. They have shown promise in preventing severe and life threatening illness. However, in current trials, Paxlovid has better prevention.

In December 2021, the FDA granted emergency use authorization (EUA) for these two oral medications aimed at preventing severe COVID-19 after contracting the virus.

“This agent significantly reduces viral shedding as early as day 3 and reduces severe infection by 88 percent,” said Dr. Turner Overton, associate professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

“While it appears to be a more potent agent, it has some drug-drug interactions that require adjusting of other medications if a patient takes them,” Overton told Healthline.

Although molnupiravir is seemingly less effective as it reduces the likelihood of severe infections by 30 percent, it provides an alternative option.

As these medications are new and have known medication interactions, Veena Venugopalan, PharmD, and Kayihura Manigaba, PharmD, professors of pharmacotherapy and translational research at the University of Florida, give caution to their use.

“It’s important to seek and establish care with a primary care provider because these pills should be used cautiously in some patients. Paxlovid, for instance, interacts with many medications, so it is very important for the PCP to review your medications and determine the best treatment for you,” they said.

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