The WHO Just Endorsed the Antiviral Paxlovid for High-Risk People

On Thursday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) provided a “strong recommendation” for the use of Paxlovid, Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pills, for high-risk patients. “WHO made a strong recommendation for nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, sold under the name Paxlovid, for mild and moderate COVID-19 patients at highest risk of hospital admission, calling it the best therapeutic choice for high-risk patients to date,” the WHO said in a statement. 

The announcement comes after the organization reviewed trial data which showed the oral treatment significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization. Two clinical trials, which involved 3,078 patients, found that Paxlovid cut the risk of hospitalization by 85%.

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In the U.S., hospital admissions for COVID-19 have dropped: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the current seven-day daily average is 1,580, far lower than 21,500, which was the peak in mid-January 2022. According to the Commonwealth Fund, COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. have reduced the virus’s spread and death toll, saving an estimated 279,000 lives, and preventing up to 1.25 million hospitalizations. But for many people who are at a higher risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, hospitalization is still very much a reality.

The CDC defines high-risk patients as those who face a higher chance of developing a serious infection if they become infected with the virus. This includes people aged 65 and older, pregnant people, and immunocompromised people. Immunocompromised people—those who have suppressed immunity due to certain health conditions or medications—make up approximately 3% of the U.S. adult population. The WHO’s recent review of Paxlovid data also found that when it comes to high-risk patients, Paxlovid has the potential to contribute to 84 fewer hospitalizations per 1,000 patients. 

Being fully vaccinated is still considered the best way to fight the virus and reduce one’s risk of hospitalization. And on Thursday, the WHO was quick to remind the public that the antiviral Paxlovid is not meant to fill the role of vaccination. “These therapeutics do not replace vaccination. They just give us another treatment option for those patients that do get infected that are at higher risk,” said Janet Diaz, the WHO lead on clinical management, in a statement.