© 2022 Western New York Public Broadcasting Association

140 Lower Terrace
Buffalo, NY 14202

Mailing Address:
Horizons Plaza P.O. Box 1263
Buffalo, NY 14240-1263

Buffalo Toronto Public Media | Phone 716-845-7000
WBFO Newsroom | Phone: 716-845-7040
Your NPR Station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Health & Wellness

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 a news 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?