New COVID pills will be scarce in Nebraska

Dr. Mark Rupp, UNMC Division of Infectious Diseases, talks about the effectiveness and expected...
Dr. Mark Rupp, UNMC Division of Infectious Diseases, talks about the effectiveness and expected lack of availability for Pfizer's new oral COVID drug.(WOWT)
Published: Dec. 22, 2021 at 10:16 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - During the pandemic, drug research and approval have been accelerated globally in efforts to slow down and treat COVID, and Wednesday the FDA announced that Pfizer’s oral treatment was designed to keep people out of the hospital has been approved for emergency use.

But the drug will not be readily available in Nebraska at the outset.

“This is good news,” said Dr. Mark Rudd, the Chief of Nebraska Medical Center’s Division of Infectious Diseases. “It’s something that hopefully we’ll be able to turn to now, as we’ll be able to start treating people, keeping them out of the hospital. Unfortunately, this drug is going to be in very, very short supply as it first comes out.”

As the infection tally in Douglas County nears 100,000 and the death toll moves closer to 900, Paxlovid provides a glimmer of hope as an oral course of drugs that has been highly successful in studies.

“Giving people (this) oral medication within the first few days of their illness,” Rupp said. “It lowered the risk of that disease progressing to the point that they would need hospitalization or severe disease or death, by nearly 90%. "

Even before its approval, the U.S. ordered $5.3 billion dollars worth of Plaxovid from Pfizer.

“We will have 265,000 treatment courses of Pfizer available in January, with monthly totals of pills ramping up across the year and all 10 million treatment courses delivered by late summer,” said Jeff Zients, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator. “As quickly as Pfizer gets the pills manufactured and delivered we will immediately provide them to states and jurisdictions for distribution.”

But Nebraska, like all states, will have to wait its turn. And in the immediate future, that doesn’t add up to much.

“We don’t anticipate here in the state may be having more than 100 or 200 courses of treatment (in) a week,” Rupp said. “That’s obviously not going to be anywhere near what we need to treat everybody who develops this illness.”

There are other such treatments in the works. UNMC and Nebraska Medicine are among those studying an oral drug from Merck that is not quite ready for approval.

“Just on face value it doesn’t appear to be as effective, but there are people who will not be able to take the Pfizer product,” Rupp said. “So that may be a place where we would turn to a different drug even though it will be less effective.”

Over time, Rupp sees the possibility that Paxlovid may be useful as a safeguard against contracting Covid in the first place. But for now, it is only approved to treat people who are already ill and at high risk with what little supply the state receives.

“This is funneled through the FDA, through public health...distributed to the major medical centers and pharmacies, just like we have with a lot of these new agents,” Rupp said. “So it will be some days to a week or more that we start seeing those shipments.”

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