Alaskans have new choices to treat COVID-19, including oral drugs

Published: Jan. 11, 2022 at 4:22 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization to two oral antiviral drugs that are now available in Alaska. Paxlovid, which is made by Pfizer, is intended for patients 12 years of age and up. Molnupiravir, made by Merck, is approved for patients 18 and older.

State Pharmacist Coleman Cutchins said each drug has a different profile of who it can benefit, but both are meant for people who are considered high risk for adverse effects from COVID-19. To be effective, Cutchins said, they have to be taken early on.

“Patients need to start them within five days of that first symptom, or five days of a positive test, whichever comes first,” Cutchins said. “Patients do have to be symptomatic, and they do have to have risk for severe disease.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists a number of conditions that might put people more at risk for developing severe disease from COVID-19.

The pills are only available with a doctor’s prescription, but Cutchins said filling that prescription at your local pharmacy could be tricky, since right now the state has only received a very limited supply. It’s a situation he expects will change in the coming weeks.

“They’re going to be limited, we’re going to get a little bit more, and then we’re going to sort of get a whole lot,” he said. “So I really expect the time period that they’re limited to be fairly short.”

A federal website can help people identify where the drugs can be found in each state.

Cutchins said he expects the oral medication will be a better fit for people than the monoclonal antibody treatments that are currently available.

“In many ways, you know having an oral drug, if it’s equally effective to a monoclonal, is vastly superior to, you know, a sterile drug that we have to take people to an injection center and inject them with,” he said. “You know, handing them a bottle of pills is way easier than that whole set up.”

Ultimately though, Cutchins said he doesn’t expect many people who are fully vaccinated with a booster shot will need the treatment, since most will experience a mild case of the illness. He said the best thing to do if a person tests positive is contact a doctor and let them decide.

For more information on these two oral drugs, as well as other treatments for COVID-19, visit the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services website.

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