Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 — September 14, 2022

“Shared expectations lead to predictability.”

586. The drug Paxlovid is proving to be less effective for younger patients.

         QDoesn’t the drug Paxlovid mean we don’t have to worry about Covid restrictions?

         A:  Many see Paxlovid as a miracle drug that makes it safe to “return to normal” in the face of expanding number of Omicron Covid-19 infections.  Even though it was developed for people at higher risk of developing serious disease, most people consider this a universal “silver bullet.”  “No need to worry,” many people say.  “There’s no need to wear masks when around other people.  No need to get vaccinations or booster shots,” some believe.  After all, there is this new drug Paxlovid that prevents people from getting serious disease and reduces the risk of Covid.”  These popular expectations are not shared in a recent study.

In the recent issue of Time Magazine, health correspondent Jamie Ducharme stated, “Paxlovid, the antiviral drug noted for its ability to keep high risk Covid-19 out of the hospital, works very well for seniors but provides little benefit for people younger than 65.”  This is the conclusion reached by the authors of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August.

Researchers in Israel tracked more than 100,000 adults aged 40 and older who got Covid-19 from January to March 2022, when the Omicron subvariants were widespread.  Most of these individuals had been previously vaccinated or had been previously infected with Covid-19.  All were considered high risk for developing serious disease and were eligible for Paxlovid.  Only about 4,000 had actually taken this antiviral medication.

Seniors over age 65 who were at high risk for serious disease saw significant benefits with 73% having a reduced chance of dying compared to others in that age group that didn’t get the drug.  But among people between the ages of 40 to 64, Paxlovid provided little or no benefit.

“Paxlovid is still benefiting older adults and younger people who are immunocompromised by lowering their risk of hospitalization and death.  Covid-19 vaccinations are also doing a good job at preventing severe disease, if not all infections.  But as research on Paxlovid mounts, the drug is appearing less universally impressive,” concludes Jamie Ducharne.

Relevant fact:  Needed federal funding for Covid is now tied to the debt ceiling.

There are no more at-home antigen self-testing kits available for free distribution.  Once the current level of vaccine and modified booster doses are given out, federal funding is not available for additional vaccines to be provided at no cost to those asking for them.   Recently, several news services explained that action on these and other public health issues will need additional federal appropriations or these program initiatives will have to shift to the private sector meaning insurance payments or direct payment by patients who don’t have insurance.  The White House has asked Congress for $47 billion in emergency aid to cover continuing support for managing the Covid-19 pandemic along with additional war supplies for Ukraine, and disaster relief in Kentucky and other states.  This request will become part of the debate over raising the debt ceiling which will have to be resolved to prevent the government shutting down after September 30 – just weeks away from the mid-term elections.

The request for additional Covid-19 aid has already become a sticking point for many months as the White House has said more money is needed, and Republicans have pointed to the trillions that have already been approved and money that still has not been spent.”  If new support is not given for additional Covid-19 resources, testing and vaccinations will no longer be free.  This can only reduce the ability to control future surges and morbidity resulting from the disease.