BILLIONseeking antiviral treatment Paxlovid can reduce a person’s risk of serious illness from COVID-19. But while elderly people tend to get impressive protection from the pills, younger people get little benefit, according to new research.
In one research published August 24 in New England Journal of Medicine, researchers in Israel provide valuable real-world data on how effective the drug is against Omicron. The researchers studied data from 109,000 patients at a large healthcare institution — nearly all of whom had been vaccinated, previously infected, or both — and tracked admission rates hospital and their mortality by age. Nearly 4,000 people in the study, conducted between January and March 2022, took Paxlovid.
People 65 and older were 73% less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and about 79% less likely to die from the disease than people in the same age group who did not take Paxlovid. But those aged 40 to 64 did not have a statistically significant reduction in their risk of hospitalization or death.
Based on the findings, the authors concluded that “no evidence of benefit was found in young adults.”
To be eligible for Paxlovid, patients must be at high risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19. Risk factors include older age, as well as conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a history of heart disease and kidney failure. But the Israeli data suggest that age may be an even more important factor in judging who should take it.
While the benefits are clear for the elderly, the results raise questions about whether taking the drug is worth it for those under 65. It comes with potential side effects, including diarrhea, muscle aches, increased blood pressure, and a bad aftertaste that it can temporarily affect some people’s ability to eat. Paxlovid also interacts with common medications, such as cholesterol-lowering statins, so some doctors advise patients to stop or reduce those drugs for a five-day course of Paxlovid. And there are more and more reports that Paxlovid users are likely to experience recurrent infectionsor the virus flares up again after they stop taking the medicine.
One note of the study is that the researchers did not break down data on young people with cancer and other severely immunocompromised conditions who may be more likely to benefit from Paxlovid. than other young people – perhaps to a greater extent than the data suggest. As more people take the drug, doctors will better understand who benefits most and whose benefits outweigh the risks.
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