Doctors prioritize most at-risk patients for new COVID-19 treatments

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Two new COVID-19 treatments offer a glimmer of hope to health care workers who are preparing for some dark days ahead.

Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are both five-day antiviral pills that can be prescribed by a doctor to people who test positive and are at risk of developing severe disease that could cause hospitalization. 

"These new medications that are out have a lot of promise to be able to prevent severe disease and keep people out of the hospital," Wisconsin DHS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ryan Westergaard said. 

Doctors are asking for patience from those seeking the new COVID-19 treatments as the supply will be limited for awhile. Those who could become the most sick will be prioritized.

"Over the last two weeks, we've seen just steadily increasing numbers of people requesting these therapies, beyond anything we've seen before," UW Health Clinical Professor of Medicine Bartho Caponi said. 

At UW Health, a team of ethicists determines which patients would most benefit from the new treatments using guidance from National Institutes of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We look at risk factor. So, age is a major risk factor, people who are immunosuppressed either because of innate conditions they have or because of therapies they're getting," Caponi said.

The pills are effective, but hospitals likely won't see their full value right away.

"I think the next few weeks are going to be very difficult in our hospitals," Westergaard said. "Unfortunately, we have such a very small supply now and will for the next few weeks, that it might not have a major or detectable impact on our hospitalizations."

Doctors say preventing disease is far better than catching a disease and treating it, which is why vaccines are still the first and best defense mechanism against COVID-19.

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