From the beginning of May through the middle of October, more than 68,000 Americans died of COVID-19. That’s an average of about 400 people per day. That number is likely to come as a surprise, especially to people who got COVID-19 and recovered over the summer or had a family member, friend or coworker do the same.
What may be even more surprising is that there’s a treatment capable of stopping the majority of these deaths – Paxlovid. Most people aren’t taking it.
“We have to continue using every available tool to keep LIUNA members and their loved ones safe from COVID-19,” said LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Educating people about the safety and effectiveness of available treatments and who should consider taking them is one way to meet that goal.”
Data from over 500,000 COVID-19 patients showed that the death rate for people who didn’t receive Paxlovid was four times higher than for those who received the drug. Yet only about 25 percent of patients eligible for Paxlovid actually took it. And that’s with the drug being free for patients and widely available. On the issue of cost, it’s worth noting that while Paxlovid is free, it does require a prescription and the cost of the doctor’s visit does depend on your insurance coverage.
“A large chunk of deaths are preventable right now with Paxlovid alone,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.
Given the numbers above, it’s estimated that greater use of Paxlovid could reduce COVID-19 deaths from about 400 per day to about 50 per day. So why aren’t more people taking it?
Why Aren’t More People Taking Paxlovid?
While there’s no single reason people aren’t taking Paxlovid, one powerful reason appears to be politics. Of the 20 states with the lowest Paxlovid use, 18 were won by Donald Trump in 2020. The Biden administration is well-aware of this partisan divide and the President touched on it in his recent remarks about the ongoing fight against COVID-19.
“As we enter this new moment in the battle against COVID, let’s use it to start fresh as a country, to put all the old battles over COVID behind us, to put all the partisan politics aside,” President Biden said. “None of this is about politics. It’s about your health and the health of your loved ones.”
Another possible reason for the lack of Paxlovid use is that many people incorrectly believe COVID-19 is no longer an illness worth taking seriously. “The public doesn’t seem to understand that the evidence around hospitalization and deaths is really powerful,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, the chair of the medicine department at the University of California, San Francisco.
Instead of focusing on the drug’s positive outcomes, many have focused on the negatives, including side effects like a metallic taste in the mouth or the possibility of so-called “rebound COVID” where symptoms return after a person finishes the five-day course of Paxlovid pills.
Who Should Take Paxlovid?
As always, recommendations about specific medications and treatments should come from a conversation with your doctor or healthcare provider. However, data does show us who may benefit from Paxlovid most.
COVID-19 vaccines have proven so effective that the risk for hospitalization and death for people under 50 is nearly zero. For younger adults, the benefits of Paxlovid may not be as noticeable. The benefits of Paxlovid are greater for the elderly, people who are immunocompromised and for people with serious underlying medical conditions, especially if those people didn’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I think almost everybody benefits from Paxlovid,” Dr. Ashish Jha said. “For some people, the benefit is tiny. For others, the benefit is massive.”
Educating people about the benefits of Paxlovid and other available COVID-19 treatments may become especially important this winter. New variants are fueling fears about a potential surge in cases, and millions of Americans remain unvaccinated or have chosen not to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccination via the new bivalent Pfizer and Moderna boosters. For more information about COVID-19, see the LHSFNA’s resource page at www.lhsfna.org/covid-19-resources.