coronavirus pandemic

New COVID Medication Helps Keep Hospitalizations Down As Florida Cases Rise

Paxlovid received FDA approval in December, making it hard to come by for much of the omicron surge

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COVID cases in Florida surpassed 20,000 cases on Friday, the highest number we’ve seen since mid-February. But hospitalization numbers remain low, so experts are not sounding the alarm.

“Largely because there is a significant amount of personal immunity from vaccine or exposure, we aren’t getting to a level that’s a serious public health threat,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert with Florida International University.

Marty said vaccination rates and drug interventions are keeping people out of the hospital.

What is Paxlovid?

Paxlovid is one of the newest anti-viral pills now widely available in South Florida.

The treatment is a three-pill daily course of therapy prescribed to those with more severe cases of COVID that have not escalated to hospitalization.

Paxlovid received FDA approval in December, making it hard to come by for much of the omicron surge. In January, only 50,000 courses of the pill were being sent out in the U.S. every two weeks. That number is now up to 2.5 million courses delivered to pharmacies in April.

“We have much more of it currently across states in pharmacies than we have going out each day, which is good news," said Dr. Cameron Webb, senior advisor to the White House COVID Task Force. "It’s widely available for folks to use.”

Is Paxlovid available in South Florida?

Several pharmacies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties report they have Paxlovid on hand. One local doctor told NBC6 his patients have been able to find it.

“It’s possible they don’t have it in one location of that pharmacy, but they go to other locations and they find it in the community,” said Dr. Carlos Riveros, internal medicine specialist with United Medical Specialties.

Is Paxlovid safe and does it have side effects?

“Paxlovid is very safe, little risk of side effects and almost 90% of the time prevents people from being in the hospital," Marty said. "It’s one of the big tools in our armory that’s helping to reduce the volume of people that had to be hospitalized in the past.”

Even with this new COVID therapeutics, doctors still encourage everyone to keep an eye on transmission levels in the community and stay on guard.

“The virus is still here and transmissible, so we are going to expect more cases while people are not taking care of themselves,” said Riveros.

When Paxlovid is taken within five days of symptoms, it’s proved to be 88% effective in preventing hospitalization and death. The U.S. has ordered enough supply of the pills for 20 million people, which is estimated to last for several more months.

Paxlovid is made by Pfizer and available to patients who are 12 years old and above, weighing at least 88 pounds.

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