Explainer: How Paxlovid can treat COVID-19 infections

(Tiếng Việt)

What is Paxlovid?

The COVID-19 treatment called Paxlovid is an antiviral therapy consisting of two medications (called nirmatrelvir and ritonavir). The medications are contained in three different pills: two pills (nirmatrelvir) prevent the virus from spreading to uninfected cells while one pill (ritonavir) boosts the effectiveness of the medication. The 3 pills by mouth twice a day for 5 days, which amounts to 30 pills taken in total. 

Paxlovid should be taken within 5 days of experiencing symptoms, otherwise, the damage done by the virus will be too extensive for the treatment to be effective. Paxlovid is recommended as a treatment for COVID-19 patients who have symptoms and who are at high risk of developing severe COVID infections and being hospitalized, such as people with chronic diseases or older people.

Paxlovid is manufactured by Pfizer, which also manufactures the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Paxlovid reduces the risk of hospitalization from COVID-19 by 85%. It is highly recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

What are the side effects of Paxlovid?

The side effects of Paxlovid can include:

  • Sensation of bitterness/metallic taste when taking the pills.
  • Diarrhea.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Muscle aches.

Paxlovid can react negatively to any other medications you are taking, causing severe side effects, so you should consult a health professional before taking Paxlovid.

Can I take Paxlovid instead of being vaccinated?

No. You should get vaccinated if you are eligible. According to the FDA, “Paxlovid is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals” and “the FDA urges the public to get vaccinated and receive a booster if eligible.” No vaccines are 100% effective, so it is still possible to become infected with COVID-19 after being vaccinated. Paxlovid can be taken as a treatment for breakthrough COVID-19 infections.

How do I get Paxlovid?

To become eligible for a Paxlovid prescription, you must be:

  • age 12 or more and weigh at least 88 lb.
  • have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
  • be at risk for developing a severe case of COVID-19 either because you are: 65 or older in age, have underlying medical conditions like cancer or diabetes, or are immunocompromised.

The Biden Administration has purchased 20 million treatment courses of Paxlovid, and are distributing them at local pharmacies and health clinics. A large supply of Paxlovid is still sitting in pharmacies, and health experts recommend people take Paxlovid if they need it. 

The best way to obtain Paxlovid is to talk to your primary care doctor and get a prescription. Then you can pick the pills up at a pharmacy. This would be best as your doctor knows your medical history and your current medical situation, and can inform you on whether you should take Paxlovid. 

Another way to get Paxlovid is to visit a Test-to-Treat site at many health centers, urgent care clinics, and pharmacies. These free Test-to-Treat sites, funded by the federal government, will offer COVID-19 testing and an evaluation to determine if you can take Paxlovid. You can find a test-to-treat site near you at https://covid-19-test-to-treat-locator-dhhs.hub.arcgis.com/. You can also call 800-232-0233 and press 6 for assistance in Vietnamese.

You can also use online urgent care from trusted platforms like Plushcare, eMed, and Truepill, which offer online tests to assess and possibly prescribe COVID medications. These online care centers take different insurance plans, so check beforehand if they accept your health insurance plan.

If your symptoms do not improve after taking Paxlovid for 5 days, then you should talk to a health professional. If you test positive for COVID after taking Paxlovid, you should isolate again for 5 more days.