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What we still need to know about the COVID-19 antiviral treatments

Updated: Mar 14, 2022

Amidst growing concerns about the newest and potentially fatal 'Omicron' variant of SARS-CoV-2, regulatory agencies' recent authorization of COVID antiviral pills is significant. While both medications – Merck's Molnupiravir and Pfizer's Paxlovid – have been found to reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in clinical trials of people treated soon after their initial infection, there are many unanswered questions.

Scientists still don't fully understand how effective the medications are or how easily places that need them the most can use them, as these treatments often need to be given in the early stages of infection to work effectively. There isn't much information about when the drugs were given to trial participants and how that timing correlated with the safety and efficacy of these medications. Although there were no deaths in their treatment arms, neither trial had enough participants to draw firm conclusions about the drugs' ability to prevent fatalities. The trials also did not clearly prove whether the medicines affect the transmission of the coronavirus or prevent illness in people who have been exposed.

Additional research is needed to determine whether these antiviral medications work against variants of concern, whether the coronavirus can become resistant to these treatments, and other pending concerns.

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