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Paxlovid medication lowers risk of COVID-19 death, hospitalization: study

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A new study has found that Paxlovid is proven to lower the risk of COVID-19-related death and hospitalization among those likely to experience severe illness.

Paxlovid, which is the brand name for the drug nirmatrelvir–ritonavir, is an antiviral medication used to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.

The study was performed by Ontario researchers and published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Scientists concluded that Paxlovid helped prevent COVID-19-related fatalities during the rise of the Omicron variant, between April 4 and Aug. 31, 2022. Data from 8,876 patients treated with nirmatrelvir–ritonavir was compared with the records of 168,669 patients who were not treated with the medication. Most patients included in the research were older than 70 years of age and vaccinated.

"Our study, in conjunction with previous clinical trials and observational research, supports the effectiveness of nirmatrelvir–ritonavir at reducing hospital admission from COVID-19 and all-cause death," the study’s lead author, Dr. Kevin Schwartz, wrote in a press release. Schwartz is an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto.

Scientists discovered that for every 62 people treated with nirmatrelvir–ritonavir, one case of severe COVID-19 was prevented.

Schwartz added that, "this study highlights the importance of testing for SARS-CoV-2 if you have symptoms, and access to Paxlovid for those at risk for severe COVID-19.”

A trial performed in the past also found that nirmatrelvir–ritonavir can be effective at treating patients with COVID-19, but that study did not involve patients who had been vaccinated or who had experienced possible drug–drug interactions.

“If you test positive for COVID-19, are over 60 years of age, or if you have other risk factors for severe infection, such as chronic medical conditions or are undervaccinated, contact your health care provider or pharmacy within five days of symptoms starting and ask about Paxlovid," Schwartz said.

Another study, however, released by the UBC Therapeutics Initiative, found that Paxlovid offers no benefit to people who were at much lower risk of serious illness, when used for those with new-onset COVID-19 infections.

By assessing people with new onset COVID-19 infections who were treated with Paxlovid during 2022, the research found evidence of modest reductions in hospitalizations and severe illness. These people were compared to those with low risk for severe COVID-related complications who did not receive the drug.

The research found no evidence to suggest that Paxlovid reduces the likelihood of health complications for those who were not already at high risk for severe illness.

Colin Dormuth, an associate professor in UBC’s department of anaesthesiology, pharmacology, and therapeutics, said these findings lessen an urgency to receive the drug.

“The overall evidence shows there is no reason for lower risk people, including elderly people, to rush to obtain Paxlovid if they have COVID-19,” he said in a press release.

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