Tconducting antiviral treatment Paxlovid can reduce a person’s chances of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. But while older people tend to get impressive protection from the pill, younger people get little benefit, new research has found.
IN study published on August 24 in New England Journal of Medicine, researchers in Israel provide valuable real-world data on how effective Omicron pills are. Researchers examined data from 109,000 patients at a large health care organization — almost all of whom had been vaccinated, previously infected, or both — and tracked their hospitalizations and mortality by age. Nearly 4,000 people in the study, conducted from January to March 2022, took Paxlovid.
People 65 or older were 73% less likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 and about 79% less likely to die from the disease than people in the same age group who did not take Paxlovid. But people aged 40 to 64 did not experience a statistically significant drop in the risk of hospitalization or death.
Based on the findings, the authors concluded that “no evidence of benefit was found in younger adults.”
To be eligible for Paxlovid, patients must be at increased risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19. Risk factors include older age, as well as conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a history of heart and kidney failure. But Israeli data suggest that age may be an even more important consideration in assessing who should take it.
While the benefits are clear for older people, the findings question whether taking the drug is worthwhile for people under 65. It comes with potential side effects, including diarrhea, muscle aches, increased blood pressure, and an aftertaste so bad it can temporarily affect some people’s ability to eat. Paxlovid also interacts with common medications, such as cholesterol-lowering statins, so some doctors advise patients to stop or reduce these medications during the five-day course of Paxlovid. And there are increasing reports that people taking Paxlovid are likely to experience a rebound infectionor the virus comes back after they stop taking the pills.
One caveat of the study is that the researchers did not break down the data for younger people with cancer and other severe immunocompromising conditions, who may be more likely than other young people to benefit from Paxlovid — perhaps to a greater extent. than the data indicate. As more people take the drugs, doctors will have a better idea of who will benefit the most and for whom the benefits outweigh the risks.
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