QUESTIONS ABOUT COVID-19 TREATMENTS?
DO I STILL NEED TO BE WORRIED ABOUT COVID-19?
While we may be done with COVID-19—COVID-19 is not done with us. New circulating variants of COVID-19 spread easily and have already caused thousands of hospitalizations and deaths this fall and winter, primarily in those at higher risk of severe illness.
According to the CDC, most of us may be at higher risk of getting severe illness from COVID-19, including:
- People aged 50+, with or without other health conditions, simply because the ability of our immune system to fight infections declines as we age.
- People of any age living with one or more common health conditions, such as cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, as well as those with weakened immune system.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans may be at higher risk of contracting severe COVID-19. Being age 50 or over or having a host of common health conditions including cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and weakened immune systems can make someone more likely to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms. This means high-risk individuals are at increased risk for hospitalization or worse.
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP PROTECT MYSELF AGAINST GETTING SEVERE COVID-19?
First, stay up to date with the latest COVID-19 vaccine, which is the best way to protect yourself and your community against severe illness and death. Those who are 6 months or older are eligible to receive the updated COVID-19 vaccine and should get it as soon as possible. This is a universal CDC recommendation, similar to the flu vaccine.
For those of us who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is a good idea to plan ahead before you get sick. Talk to your healthcare provider to know whether an oral, pill-form antiviral treatment that you can take at home is an option. Oral antiviral treatments have been found in FDA-reviewed studies to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization or death from COVID-19 in people at higher risk of severe illness. These treatments have also been found to reduce the risk of developing “long COVID,” which are debilitating symptoms that can persist for weeks or even months after an initial infection fades.
SMALL WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY: There are two oral antiviral treatments available. In order to be effective, these treatments must be started in people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 (i.e., those who test positive) within 5 days from when mild to moderate symptoms start. You should call your healthcare provider as soon as you test positive for the virus and are experiencing one or more symptoms of COVID-19.
If you receive a prescription for an oral COVID-19 antiviral, make sure that your healthcare provider reviews all other medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medications and supplements, to check for any drug interactions. The most common side effects with oral COVID-19 antivirals are altered taste or a potential loss of taste, diarrhea or nausea, and muscle aches.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO BEGIN TREATMENT WITHIN A WINDOW OF TIME?
Like all antivirals, COVID-19 treatments work best early in the course of an illness—in this case, within the first five days of developing symptoms. Once you’ve been ill with the virus for more than a week, the damage done to the body in a severe case cannot be undone by the antiviral. Since oral COVID-19 antiviral medications are only available with a prescription, you must call your healthcare provider as soon as you test positive with symptoms. Your provider will not be able to prescribe you oral treatment past the 5-day window.
WHERE CAN I GET ANTIVIRAL TREATMENTS?
Oral antiviral treatments are available with a prescription from your healthcare provider at pharmacies across the country.
If you are hospitalized with COVID-19, or cannot take an oral antiviral, there are intravenous (IV) antiviral medications that may be administered by a healthcare provider within 7 days from when symptoms start.
Both oral antiviral treatments have transitioned from U.S. government distribution to the commercial market and traditional health care coverage. Cost and coverage options vary depending on the drug, and there are patient assistance programs, co-pay programs, and other plans to help ensure COVID-19 treatments will continue to be available at no or low cost for most individuals.
Those who receive care from federal entities, including Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)-supported health centers, Indian Health Service, Veterans Health Administration, and others will have continued access to free antiviral treatments.
Those who have Medicare or Medicaid coverage and the uninsured without prescription drug coverage can access Paxlovid through PAXCESS, which includes the U.S. Government’s Patient Assistance Program operated by Pfizer.
For those with private (commercial) insurance, the PAXCESS program offers a co-pay savings program.
Through the Merck Patient Assistance Program (Merck Helps), eligible individuals, primarily the uninsured, who without assistance could not otherwise afford the medicines, can receive Lagevrio free of charge. Individuals who don’t meet the insurance criteria may still qualify for this program under certain circumstances and if their income meets the program criteria.