Closeup of man getting ready to take a pill with water

Both vaccinated and unvaccinated seniors with COVID-19 have lower rates of hospitalization and death when taking the antiviral pill Paxlovid, according to a new study from Israel.

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, followed nearly 110,000 participants when the omicron coronavirus variant was dominant. The treatment was strongly protective in unvaccinated patients who had no prior COVID-19 illness, with 86% fewer hospitalizations, according to a report by Reuters. In patients with prior immunity from vaccination or illness who took the drug, hospitalization rates were 60% lower.

The effect was detected only in patients aged 65 years and older. The rate of hospitalization was three times higher in this age group for those who were not treated with Paxlovid, and mortality was reduced by 81%, the news outlet reported.

Paxlovid use spiked in May, alongside a rise COVID-19 cases and greater availability of the drug. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recently urged clinicians to consider Paxlovid as a first-line treatment for high-risk patients. The agency had found signs that more clinicians were turning to ineffective systemic corticosteroids and antibiotics when caring for these patients, and it has urged healthcare providers to rely on evidence-based treatments.

The National Institutes of Health recommends treating patients who do not require hospitalization or supplemental oxygen with Paxlovid or the infused antiviral remdesivir, in that order of preference. Paxlovid must be used within five days of COVID-19 symptoms onset.

Recently, concerns have been raised by reports of viral rebound and the recurrence of COVID-19 symptoms in patients who take Paxlovid. The effect of these events on long-term outcomes remains uncertain and the issue is being studied by federal health officials.

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WHO backs Paxlovid for milder COVID-19 cases; users tell of odd rebound symptoms