New research indicates that individuals who take Pfizer’s Covid antiviral drug Paxlovid shortly after contracting the virus may lower their chances of developing long Covid, regardless of their age, vaccination status, or infection history. The findings, published on Thursday in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal, revealed that those who took Paxlovid within five days of testing positive for Covid had a 26% lower risk of developing long Covid than those who did not receive the medication. The study involved over 35,000 individuals who took the oral Covid pill and 246,000 who did not.
People included in the study were limited to those who qualify for Paxlovid under emergency use authorization, which includes individuals over 50 years of age or those with underlying medical conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. The research indicates that Paxlovid may have benefits beyond its intended use of treating individuals at high risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19. The drug was still able to lower the risk of death by 47% and hospitalization by 24% approximately one month after the initial infection in the study.
As there is limited data and no proven treatment available for long Covid, a condition characterized by new or persistent health issues lasting over four weeks after an initial Covid infection, researchers are working to fill the knowledge gap. Symptoms can include fatigue, difficulty breathing, chest pain, and brain fog, and can persist for an extended period. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 1 in 5 Covid survivors between the ages of 18 and 64, and 1 in 4 survivors aged 65 or older, experience ongoing health problems linked to a previous Covid infection.
According to Dr. Jessica Bender, co-medical director at the University of Washington’s post-COVID-19 Rehabilitation and Recovery Clinic, current knowledge on long Covid is limited to certain people being more vulnerable to it, and Covid vaccination possibly offering some protection against it. She described the new study as “very exciting and promising” as it is the first to link Paxlovid with a reduced risk of long Covid.
According to Dr. Anita Chopra, who works as a board-certified internal medicine physician at the University of Washington Medicine Primary Care Center, the study’s results can be used by prescribers to encourage the use of Paxlovid. She added that eligible patients would be more reassured to know that the drug may significantly reduce their chances of developing long Covid after a Covid infection.
However, Chopra recognized that the study was observational in nature, which implies that the researchers simply observed the participants who either took or did not take Paxlovid without intervening. It was not a randomized controlled study, which is widely regarded as the gold standard for clinical research because researchers can intervene and more closely investigate a possible cause-and-effect relationship between taking a drug such as Paxlovid and its effects.
Bender stressed the importance of conducting a randomized controlled study to replicate the findings. She also noted a limitation of the study, which is that it identified participants through healthcare databases of the Department of Veterans Affairs. To address this, Bender suggests that future studies should involve different patient populations beyond that healthcare system.
As Paxlovid moves closer to obtaining full approval from the Food and Drug Administration, following the agency’s advisors voting overwhelmingly in support of the drug last week, a new study has emerged. The FDA is anticipated to make a decision in May. According to recent federal data, over 12 million courses of Paxlovid have been distributed to pharmacies throughout the United States, with about 1.3 million doses accessible nationwide, and roughly 8 million Americans have taken the drug.