A large number of U.S. COVID deaths could be prevented if patients would take Paxlovid, the antiviral developed by Pfizer
that helps reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, according to White House COVID coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha.
Jha told the New York Times that the average daily death count could be reduced to about 50 a day from 400 currently, if every American aged 50 and above that tests positive for the virus took a course of either Paxlovid or used monoclonal antibodies.
“The public doesn’t seem to understand that the evidence around hospitalization and deaths is really powerful,” Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco told the paper.
The issue seems to be a combination of worry about certain issues that Paxlovid can cause, including a strange metallic taste and the potential for “rebound COVID,” where patients quickly become reinfected after the five-day course of pills has been completed. That happened to both President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden recently.
The second reason is that many Americans — and Republicans, in particular — have refused to take COVID seriously and are not willing to take steps to reduce its impact. Trials have found Paxlovid to be effective across all age groups, but mostly among older patients. But as the COVID death rate for people under 50 is already close to zero, reducing it in a statistically significant way is difficult.
“I think almost everybody benefits from Paxlovid,” Jha said. “For some people, the benefit is tiny. For others, the benefit is massive.”
Yet a smaller share of 80-year-olds with COVID in the U.S. is taking it than 45-year-olds, Jha said citing data he has seen.
The news comes as U.S. known cases of COVID are continuing to ease and now stand at their lowest level since late April, although the true tally is likely higher given how many people are testing at home, with data generally not being collected.
The daily average for new cases stood at 41,605 on Thursday, according to a New York Times tracker, down 25% from two weeks ago. Cases are declining in northeastern states including New York and New Jersey, while cases are rising in the western states Montana, Washington and Oregon.
The daily average for hospitalizations was down 11% at 27,021, while the daily average for deaths is down 8% to 391.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Molnupiravir, the COVID pill developed by Merck
and privately held Ridgeback Therapeutics, produced mixed results in two recent studies, the companies said Thursday. Early data from a trial conducted in the U.K. by the University of Oxford found no evidence of a difference when molnupiravir was added to usual care in reducing hospitalizations and death. A second study conducted in Israel found a benefit in patients who were 65 and older, but no benefit for 40- to 60-year-olds.
• Homelessness is surging in the U.S. again as pandemic programs that halted evictions are being phased out, the Associated Press reported. The overall number of homeless people in a federal report to be released in the coming months is expected to be higher than the 580,000 unhoused before the coronavirus outbreak, the National Alliance to End Homelessness said. The AP tallied results from city-by-city surveys conducted earlier this year and found the number of people without homes is up overall compared with 2020 in areas reporting results so far.
• The idea was to have China in stable and tip-top shape when thousands of delegates gather in Beijing to usher in a historic third term in power for Xi Jinping, BBC News reported. However, the coronavirus is not playing nicely. In recent weeks, tens of millions of people have again been confined to their homes in lockdowns across 60 towns and cities, and this is bringing political pressure on the man who has become the most powerful Chinese figure since the first communist-era leader, Mao Zedong.
• A new COVID-19 wave appears to be brewing in Europe as cooler weather arrives, with public health experts warning that vaccine fatigue and confusion over types of available vaccines will likely limit booster uptake, Reuters reported. The omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 that dominated this summer are still behind the majority of infections, but newer omicron subvariants are gaining ground. Hundreds of new forms of omicron are being tracked by scientists, the World Health Organization said this week.
Here’s what the numbers say:
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 620.5 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 6.55 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 96.6 million cases and 1,062,130 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 225.8 million people living in the U.S., equal to 68% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots. Just 110.5 million have had a booster, equal to 48.9% of the vaccinated population, and 24.8 million of those who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 37.9% of those who received a first booster.
Some 11.5 million people have had a shot of the new bivalent booster that targets the new omicron subvariants.