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New pill could be game changer for hospitals bursting with COVID patients

Blue and white pills in front of the words FDA Emergency Use Authorization

Serious COVID-19 cases now go into the hospital for treatment, since there are limited treatments available to keep them out of the hospital. However, that may change within weeks.

The FDA is expected to approve use of a new pill to treat COVID from Pfizer within days. Supply of PAXLOVID™ will be limited initially, although the Big Pharma manufacturer says it's improving production as fast as it can.

Merck also has a pill with much less success reported.

The big problem is that there is no data released to doctors and hospitals are relying right now on news releases from Pfizer. Pfizer said in anews release that the pill staves off severe disease if taken in the first few days the patient is sick.

"Neither of these has had the data published in a scientific study where everyone can look at it," said University at Buffalo epidemiologist Dr. John Sellick. "So I think we always have to maintain optimism but, yes, we have to be careful. As you know, it certainly is plausible that these would work."

If the pills work, that will keep many people at home taking the medication, freeing up hospital beds and cutting health care costs.

"We have 374 people in the hospital in Erie County and 77 of them in the ICU," said University at Buffalo epidemiologist Dr. John Sellick. "So the cost of even a short hospitalization is going to be in the tens of thousands of dollars."

Hospitals are jammed right now, with local hospitals mostly blocked from what is usually called elective surgery. That's the source of much of the revenue that keeps hospitals fiscally successful.

For many patients, it's not elective since their lives are painful and circumscribed without surgery for procedures like knee and hip replacements.

Sellick said, there is one complication: will patients who have refused vaccinations and social distancing rules be willing to take the pills if told they have early stage COVID?

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.