Closeup of man getting ready to take a pill with water

The antiviral drug Paxlovid has helped keep COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths lower than expected as cases continue to rise across the United States, a White House spokesman said Wednesday.

The treatment is in high demand, with use jumping by 315% over the past four weeks, according to White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Ashish Jha. U.S. clinicians are writing 20,000 prescriptions for the drug each day, he added.

“I think that is actually a really important reason why, despite this very substantial increase in infections, we have not seen a commensurate increase in deaths,” said Jha, as reported by Agence France-Presse.

Don’t restrict use

Daily U.S. COVID-19 cases have jumped to about 94,000, about a threefold increase since March, AFP reported. Meanwhile, hospitalizations due to the disease are at 3,000 a day, and deaths at about 275, according to the news outlet.

Paxlovid remains in good supply, said Jha, and he encouraged clinicians not to be restrictive in prescribing the drug to eligible patients. The drug is authorized for treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in patients at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration has updated information for clinicians about the drug and its use on its website

Rebound cases

The drug has been linked to cases of rebound symptoms following the completion of a course of the drug. But Jha said that data so far showed that these patients aren’t becoming very ill. The rebound rate during clinical trials was 2% during the delta variant period, and officials are collecting data on how prevalent these cases are during the omicron era, he said.

In the meantime, the National Institutes of Health may collaborate with Paxlovid maker Pfizer to study whether a longer course of the drug is needed to prevent later reinfections, according to Reuters.

Paxlovid, the first oral medication authorized for the treatment of at-risk patients with COVID-19, was shown to be 90% effective against severe outcomes. Authorization was eagerly awaited by long-term care physicians who were once limited to intravenous drugs to treat residents with COVID-19.

Once authorized in December, overall use of the treatment lagged behind expectations, in part due supply issues and to the perception that use should be restricted to the highest-risk patients. 

The White House in April began encouraging doctors to expand prescriptions to a broader cohort of vulnerable patients. And the World Health Organization has recently backed the use of Paxlovid for milder cases of COVID-19.

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