US is buying enough Pfizer’s antiviral Covid pills for 10 million people

US is buying enough Pfizer’s antiviral Covid pills for 10 million people

WASHINGTON – Biden’s government plans to pay more than $ 5 billion for a supply of Pfizer’s new Covid-19 pill, enough to do about 10 million treatment cycles over the next 10 months, according to people familiar with the deal .

High-ranking federal health officials expect the drug to be a powerful weapon against Covid. When administered immediately to experimental groups of high-risk, unvaccinated patients who developed symptoms of the disease, the drug significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization and death.

Pfizer filed for state approval of the drug in an emergency on Tuesday. A similar pill developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics could get approved as early as early December, meaning pharmacies could have limited supplies within weeks. The Pfizer treatment is taken as a course of 30 tablets over five days; Merck needs 40 pills over five days.

The antiviral drugs have helped instill hope among senior government officials that the United States will be able to contain the devastating toll from the Delta variant and its predecessors. Some experts believe the worst of the coronavirus pandemic in the country is over, also because more than four in five Americans ages 12 and older are at least partially vaccinated.

Others say infection rates have merely stabilized and could easily recover, especially as winter begins. After falling for more than a month, the daily average of cases has started to creep up. Last week, an average of around 85,800 coronavirus cases per day were reported in the US, an 18 percent increase from two weeks ago, according to an analysis by the New York Times. The number of deaths, a trailing indicator, has fallen 15 percent to an average of nearly 1,100 deaths per day.

“I think these new oral antiviral drugs will change the way Covid is treated,” said Dr. David Dowdy, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“These will help reduce the burden on hospitals and the death toll,” he said, but added that “even without these pills, those numbers will go down”.

The antiviral drugs are a new class of treatment for Covid that is ultimately expected to reach far more patients than others. Monoclonal antibody treatments typically require infusions, which are usually administered in outpatient departments. Antiviral pills, on the other hand, should be picked up at pharmacies and taken orally at home.

Their promise depends in part on access to rapid over-the-counter tests, as the pills were shown to be effective in five days or less of symptoms appearing. While the government has pledged $ 3 billion for rapid tests and the Food and Drug Administration has released a dozen of them, a test typically costs around $ 12 and not everyone can get one easily.

One of the latest rapid tests costs $ 7, however, and by the end of the year the total supply is expected to be nearly ten times what it was in August, federal officials said.

“They have more availability and more online,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

“But they are still not being used to their full potential,” he added, and “rapid testing will be critical to these antiviral tests.”

A much bigger obstacle, at least initially, is likely to be availability. Merck is expected to offer enough courses for just over three million people by February. Pfizer is slated to serve around 300,000 people by the end of February and then ramp up deliveries sharply.

This means that the drug that studies have shown to be less effective will initially be more abundant. The Pfizer pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent when given within three days of the onset of symptoms. The Merck pill was only about 50 percent effective when given within five days of the onset of symptoms, although the different designs and timing of clinical trials make comparisons inaccurate.

Both drugs are aimed at people over the age of 65 or suffering from conditions that pose a higher risk of severe Covid risk. Pfizer presented data showing treatment effectiveness only for unvaccinated, high-risk individuals, though officials said the company could provide more data later in the course of clinical trials.

Both Pfizer and Merck, who filed for approval for their drug last month, said it was up to the Food and Drug Administration to decide which groups would be eligible for the treatments. A panel of experts advising the Food and Drug Administration on antimicrobial drugs is due to meet later this month to discuss Merck’s drug.

“I think this is a powerful new tool to keep people alive and out of the hospital,” said Dr. Dowdy. “But the people who are going to get these are the people who can be diagnosed quickly and who are so at risk that someone will think they need to go to the hospital.”

Pfizer and Merck plan to ramp up production next year. Pfizer has announced that it will make enough pills in the first half of next year to care for more than 21 million people and 50 million people by the end of the year.

Australia and Great Britain have already picked up part of the offer. Pfizer said Tuesday it had reached an agreement that would allow other manufacturers to cheaply manufacture and sell the pills to 95 developing countries.

The US government originally planned to order 1.7 million treatments from Pfizer with an additional option for 3.3 million for about $ 700 per course. But the cost of the 10 million treatments contract is expected to be significantly lower – perhaps up to $ 180 less per treatment.

The contract is not final yet, but an announcement is expected this week.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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