Local doctors: Pfizer COVID-19 pill will 'change the treatment landscape'

Local doctors: Pfizer COVID-19 pill will ’change the treatment landscape’

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58) -- It's a long-awaited milestone: The country is adding another tool to fight the COVID-19 virus. Doctors said it comes at a good time, as the Omicron variant spreads and hospitals fill up.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization on Wednesday, Dec. 22, to Pfizer's antiviral pill, called Paxlovid. 

"I think it will change the treatment landscape around COVID disease," said Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor for Milwaukee County.

Paxlovid, a faster and cheaper way to treat early infections, will be the first pill patients can take at home to fight COVID. The idea is it will prevent the worst effects of the virus.

"To go to the hospital, get an IV put in and get a prolonged infusion -- that takes a lot of resources. And so to be able to say, 'Here's a pill, go home, take this,' is much easier, much simpler for everybody involved," Weston said.

The pill has mild side effects. Studies show it was 89 percent effective at decreasing hospitalizations and deaths.

"Right now is a great time to have something additional to try to keep people out of hospitals," said Dr. Dan Shirley, medical director of infection prevention at UW Health.

But both doctors caution there are limitations. Patients have to take the pill early -- within three to five days of infection. Weston said that means the country needs to have better access to testing. There are also several other unknowns and concerns about supply.

"How do we get it to people? And especially at that point of getting people tested so we know they have COVID at the right interval where this is going to be helpful. And then, who's doing the prescribing? Where do they go to pick it up?" Shirley asked.

Another treatment could also be approved soon. Merck's COVID pill called molnupiravir is expected to be authorized in the coming days or week. Both pills are believed to be effective against Omicron.

But doctors said prevention is always preferable to treatment, so people cannot forget the best tool to fighting COVID: vaccinations.

"It's the vaccine, it's the booster, and it's having this pill in your back pocket in case you did those and you still have a breakthrough infection and you're high risk," Weston said.

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