What’s All the Noise About Anti-Viral Drugs

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Have you heard about the latest weapon against COVID-19?

We are all familiar with the current arsenal of weapons used to fight COVID-19: vaccinations, masks, hand sanitiser, social distancing, border closures and lockdowns. But the rapid mutation of COVID-19 (Delta and Omicron) means these measures are no longer enough.

Two new antiviral drugs are currently being reviewed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) for potential use in Australia: Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck & Co’s Molnupiravir.

Paxlovid is a protease inhibitor, which blocks a key enzyme the virus needs to replicate in our bodies. Protease inhibitor drugs have revolutionised treatments for infections like HIV and hepatitis C. Molnupiravir is a polymerase inhibitor, which stops the virus’s genetic material from being replicated accurately by inserting errors or mutations into the RNA of the virus. The mutations then get replicated until the virus can no longer survive.

Paxlovid and Molnupiravir don’t target the spike proteins of the virus, where the majority of the COVID-19 variant mutations have been occurring so far. Rather, they stop the virus from replicating, which reduces the viral load (copies of the virus) in the upper airway, making you far less infectious, and reducing the chances of hospitalisation. They may even help to reduce the toll of ‘long COVID’, which can leave sufferers with continued symptoms that last for months or perhaps years.

Both drugs come in tablet form and are a faster and cheaper way to treat COVID-19 than existing treatments. The tablets can be taken at home, without need for a hospital visit.

The drugs are only effective for those who are confirmed to have the virus, so it is likely to only be administered to confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia, if approved by the TGA.

The US has approved Paxlovid for use following a 2,250 patient trial, which found it cut hospitalisations and deaths by 89 per cent when administered within three days of symptoms. Less than 1 per cent were hospitalised and none died. The approved course of this treatment in the US consists of three tablets taken twice a day for five days.

Molnupiravir has been approved in the UK, but has so far proven less effective than Paxlovid, only reducing hospitalisations and deaths by 50% compared to the placebo trial.

It is expected Pfizer’s Paxlovid will be the preferred treatment in Australia, as it has fewer side effects and has so far proven more effective at preventing hospitalisations and deaths among high-risk groups.

The TGA has not yet approved the drugs, however the government pre-emptively purchased 300,000 doses of Molnupiravir in October 2021 to ensure stock is available in the event of provisional approval. No date is currently confirmed for when we can expect to see these available for use.

The drugs could be the turning point that transforms COVID-19 from a life-threatening illness requiring hospitalisation into a treatable one. Prevention through vaccination, however, is still a critical part of this process.

So for now, until these drugs are approved and readily available, your best protection is to continue with social distancing measures, get vaccinated, have your booster shots, wear a mask, and sanitise regularly.

Sourced from National Seniors Australia.

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