Paxlovid slashed severe outcomes for at-risk patients after Omicron surge, study finds

Click to play video: 'Ontario pharmacists can now prescribe Paxlovid'
Ontario pharmacists can now prescribe Paxlovid
WATCH: As of Monday, pharmacists in the province can now prescribe Paxlovid. This means those who are eligible will no longer need to get a prescription from a doctor. – Dec 12, 2022

Canadians at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 who took the antiviral medication Paxlovid significantly reduced their likelihood of being hospitalized or killed by the virus after the Omicron surge, according to new research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The study, which looked at data from thousands of Ontarians, wanted to measure the effectiveness of the drug nirmatrelvir–ritonavir, which is sold under the brand name Paxlovid, and how well it prevented severe illness from COVID-19 after the Omicron variant had been detected in Canada.

The findings show that hospital admissions and deaths were lower among those given Paxlovid than in those who were not.

Most patients who received the antiviral drug in the study were over age 70, due to government criteria that limited the medication to patients who were older, had comorbidities or were under-vaccinated.

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This means the findings show those most vulnerable to severe outcomes from COVID-19 had significantly reduced odds of hospital admission and death from the virus after receiving Paxlovid.

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This supports the medication’s use to treat patients with mild COVID-19 who are at risk for severe disease, the study says.

“Our study, in conjunction with previous clinical trials and observational research, supports the effectiveness of nirmatrelvir–ritonavir at reducing hospital admission from COVID-19 and all-cause death,” lead author Dr. Kevin Schwartz, Public Health Ontario and ICES physician, said in a statement Monday.

Click to play video: 'Doctors call for better access to COVID-19 treatment drug Paxlovid'
Doctors call for better access to COVID-19 treatment drug Paxlovid

The results mirror a previous study that also showed Paxlovid was effective at treating COVID-19 patients, but that trial was conducted before the Omicron variant emerged in Canada in late 2021 and did not include people who had been vaccinated or who had potential drug interactions.

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This new study was conducted between April 4 and Aug. 31, 2022, and looked at 8,876 patients who tested positive through a PCR test who were treated with nirmatrelvir–ritonavir and compared their outcomes to a total of 168,669 Ontarians who did not receive the drug.

The province-wide data was compiled by the non-profit research institute ICES.

Overall, for every 62 people treated with nirmatrelvir–ritonavir, the medication prevented one case of severe COVID-19, the study found.

“This study highlights the importance of testing for SARS-CoV-2 if you have symptoms, and access to Paxlovid for those at risk for severe COVID-19,” Schwartz said.

It also shows the need for prompt access to this medication for those most at risk from the virus, he added.

“If you test positive for COVID-19, are over 60 years of age, or if you have other risk factors for severe infection, such as chronic medical conditions or are under-vaccinated, contact your health care provider or pharmacy within five days of symptoms starting and ask about Paxlovid.”

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