Paxlovid: US buys millions of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pills

With Americans still waiting for regulators to greenlight Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pill, the Biden administration moved to secure millions of doses for patients.

Pfizer announced Friday that the White House purchased 10 million treatment courses of its investigational COVID-19 oral antiviral candidate Paxlovid. The pill won’t be available to the public until it becomes authorized by federal regulators.

But once it achieves that, it could be a gamechanger in keeping hospital rates down amid future surges. Data collected during clinical trials show the pill cut COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths by nearly 90% in high-risk adults.

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"We were thrilled with the recent results of our Phase 2/3 interim analysis, which showed overwhelming efficacy of PAXLOVID in reducing the risk of hospitalization among high-risk patients treated within three days of symptom onset by almost 90% and with no deaths, and are pleased the U.S. government recognizes this potential," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Pfizer said the U.S. government will pay $5.29 billion for the doses. And the purchase is contingent upon approval from regulators.

Once authorized, those treatments could start rolling out by the end of this year. Pfizer recommends administering the drug as 300mg dose (two 150mg tablets) of PF-07321332 with one 100mg tablet of ritonavir. The drugs are to be taken twice a day for five days.

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Pfizer logo displayed on a laptop screen and medical pills are seen in this illustration photo taken in Krakow, Poland on Oct. 18, 2021. (Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

"It is encouraging to see a growing understanding of the valuable role that oral investigational therapies may play in combatting COVID-19, and we look forward to continuing discussions with governments around the world to help ensure broad access for people everywhere," Bourla said.

In a statement, President Joe Biden said the deal with Pfizer is "good news," claiming this pill could prove to be another critical tool in America’s arsenal that will accelerate the country out of the pandemic. Even so, he stressed vaccination remains "our strongest tool."

"With the authorization of vaccines for children aged 5 – 11 years old, 95% of Americans are now eligible to be vaccinated," Biden said. "My message continues to be: get vaccinated."

This story was reported from Atlanta.