Don’t wait to get COVID meds
Review Editor’s Note: Editorials represent the views of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently of the newsroom.
That’s how respected Minnesota state epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield sums up the current supply of antiviral treatments – in other words, pills or outpatient therapies prescribed soon after a positive test for people at risk of severe COVID.
Good news has too often been in short supply during this long and exhausting pandemic. But one drug in particular – dubbed Paxlovid – offers a welcome double boost. It is abundant and potent, being nearly 90% effective against hospitalization and death when taken for a limited window of time.
But Paxlovid and other antivirals don’t do anyone any good if they gather dust on a clinic or pharmacy shelf. While these may have been temporarily in short supply after being cleared for use in the US – Paxlovid’s emergency clearance for ages 12 and older arrived in December, for example – there is now an inventory of them. healthy here and elsewhere.
Other treatments include remdesivir, bebtelovimab and molnupiravir. The first two are administered as an outpatient infusion; the last is taken by mouth. The age range and other eligibility criteria vary from treatment to treatment. The problem now is making sure Minnesotans are not only aware of these options, but understand who should use them and when.
The list of conditions that increase the risk of severe COVID is probably longer than many realize. It includes older people, especially those 65 and older. Also on the list: type 1 and 2 diabetes, chronic lung conditions like asthma, and heart, liver, and kidney disease. Mood disorders, including depression and schizophrenia spectrum disorders, are also risk factors. A complete list is available from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at tinyurl.com/Risk042522but if in doubt seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist.
Antivirals should be administered as soon as possible, which is why a rapid COVID test remains essential. These treatments prevent people from becoming seriously ill and needing to be hospitalized. Thus, patients should take them before this level of care is required. For example, Paxlovid should be prescribed for use”within 5 days of onset of symptoms“, according to the United States Food and Drug Administration.
It is urgent to understand all this. On Friday, the Star Tribune reported that COVID cases had risen above the state’s high-risk threshold again, though many infections were likely going unreported due to the use of rapid home tests.
The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has excellent online resources (tinyurl.com/MNHealthCovidmeds) for those who want more information on antiviral treatments and where to find them.
Additional useful points to understand:
- Vaccinated people with breakthrough COVID infections are eligible for antiviral treatments, provided they have risk factors and meet other prescribing guidelines. Social networks have sown confusion on this subject.
- There are several routes to access antiviral treatments. Some pharmacies with on-site urgent care clinics have joined the feds”Test to treat“, which provides tests and prescriptions for antiviral pills. But this is not the only way to access antivirals. Regular medical providers can also prescribe them and help find a pharmacy to fill the prescription if it is not in stock locally.
- A mild case of COVID can still become severe. If you’re at high risk, seek antivirals even if you don’t feel sick to begin with.
A “key message” at this time is to have a plan in place in case you become infected, said MDH medical specialist Dr Sarah Lim. Understand if you’re at high risk, then know what to do if symptoms develop, she said, because the timeframe for antivirals to act is so tight.
The pandemic continues to wax and wane. Vaccines remain the strongest weapon against the virus, but the medicine war chest against it has grown and is well stocked. Put it to good use or help someone else do it.