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Doctors warn COVID antiviral pills may be dangerous for some patients

Published: Jan. 6, 2022 at 5:09 PM CST
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Health experts said the new antiviral pills used to treat COVID may not be safe for everyone, citing severe and even life-threatening side effects in some patients.

It’s only been a couple of weeks since the Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization for the antivirals.

Many were excited to hear there was another weapon in the fight against COVID, but doctors warn Pfizer and Merck’s new antiviral drugs will require careful consideration and monitoring for some patients.

Doctors said one of the two drugs used in Pfizer’s antiviral cocktail may cause dangerous interactions with some other widely used medications such as statins, blood thinners, and antidepressants.

Adding to the concern is the fact that the antivirals are typically prescribed to people with underlying health conditions that would put them at greater risks for complications with COVID.

Both Pfizer and Merck’s antiviral treatments are meant to be taken within the first few days of a COVID infection.

Research shows Pfizer’s Paxlovid reduces the risk of hospitalization by about 88%, while Merck’s Molnupiravir is about 30% effective.

However, the FDA is not recommending Paxlovid for people with kidney or liver disease.

Molnupiravir is only authorized for adults 18 and older and is not recommended for pregnant women.

Doctors said the antivirals should only be used as a last resort.

“Really, the first step of anything should be vaccination. We should be focused on getting vaccinated because that’s our first step in reducing our risk of having severe disease. The second step is using the treatments like the pill or the monoclonal antibodies, as they are available, to keep people out of the hospital…and of course that comes with all of the other things we’ve already talked about. It comes with side effects, having to visit a physician, and getting a prescription that may or may not be available,” said District Medical Officer with the Alabama Department of Public Health, Dr. Wes Stubblefield.

So far, the state of Alabama has only received 780 doses of Pfizer’s antiviral drug, and Dr. Stubblefield said it’s likely those are all gone.

Alabama has not yet received its allocation of Merck’s antiviral pill, but it’s expected to receive 3,640 doses.

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