COVID Antiviral Treatments: What You Need to Know

Epicentre News • 08 December 2021

(Updated 18 May 2028)

It’s official we’re entering a whole new COVID era. There are approved treatments for COVID-19, they work, and they’re affordable.

What is a COVID Antiviral Treatment?

Simply speaking, it’s a pill you can take to treat a serious COVID-19 infection and prevent further infection (Johns Hopkins Article).

There are many antiviral medications to treat viral infections like influenza (Johns Hopkins Article). But antivirals don’t kill virus / work like an antibiotic. Instead, they, “limit the production of new viruses in host cells” (Johns Hopkins Article). Basically, they make it harder for the virus to make more of itself in the body.

How do they help?

Firstly, they shorten the amount of time you are sick with COVID-19. But crucially, they also reduce the complications some people get from COVID-19 (Johns Hopkins Article).

So why has it taken so long?

The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is new, there isn’t a lot of evidence on what specific antivirals may work against it. This made developing an antiviral treatment for COVID a long process.

What are the antiviral pills that look the most promising?

Molnupiravir: (Merck and Ridgeback Therapeutics)

This medication works by interfering with the COVID virus’s ability to replicate – make more of themselves within a person’s body. But to be effective, the patient needs to take this medication within the first 5 days of experiencing symptoms (news article).

In October 2021, promising study results about a new oral antiviral drug used to treat COVID-19 were released (Harvard Article).

Compared to placebo (sugar pills), this antiviral drug significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization and death in people with mild or moderate COVID-19 who were at high risk for severe COVID (Harvard Article).

Patients taking molnupiravir were 50% less likely to be hospitalized or die compared to those taking a placebo. Only 7.3% of participants taking Molnupiravir were hospitalized and on this medication died in this trial (read more about the study here).

Molnupiravir is under review by the FDA, which is set to meet in late November to discuss whether the drug should be granted emergency use authorization (Harvard Article).

Paxlovid: (from Pfizer)

This is also an oral antiviral treatment, that interferes with the ability of the coronavirus to replicate (Harvard Article). According to interim studies, Paxlovid significantly reduced the risk of COVID-related hospitalization and death compared to a placebo (Harvard Article).

Those who had taken Paxlovid within three days of symptom onset had an 89% reduced risk of COVID-related hospitalization or death compared to those who took a placebo (Harvard Article). Study participants who started Paxlovid within five days of the start of symptoms had an 85% reduced risk compared to placebo (Harvard Article).

Side effects of Paxlovid and placebo were comparable to the placebo, and were generally mild (Harvard Article). Pfizer plans to ask the FDA to authorize the treatment (Harvard Article).

For more information on COVID-19 treatments, take a look at this helpful Harvard article.