Paxlovid and Other New Anti-Viral Medications

paxlovid for seniors

Though Americans have lived with COVID for a few years now, the virus is still concerning, especially for the elderly. Seniors over the age of 65 make up the vast majority of deaths related to COVID over the last  two years, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. In September of 2022, 88% of all COVID deaths were among those aged 65 and older.

While it might not be possible to entirely avoid contracting a COVID infection, there are ways to make the infection less severe and possibly avoid hospitalization. New antiviral medications are at the forefront of combatting the virus, and Paxlovid is the current star of the show.

What is Paxlovid?

In the early days of COVID, scientists were scrambling to find anything that might ease the more serious consequences of the virus. Numerous drugs were tested and tossed; some achieved emergency FDA approval but turned out to be largely unhelpful in the end.

Paxlovid is different. Created by Pfizer, it was approved for emergency use by the FDA in December of 2021 for those aged 12 and older, weighing at least 88 pounds, and at high risk for severe complications. While the pills won’t keep you from catching or getting sick from COVID, they do help by preventing some of the more serious complications and keeping seniors out of the hospital. 

In fact, the use of Paxlovid in a clinical trial showed an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization and death among unvaccinated individuals[1]. In November 2022, a study on adults who took Paxlovid within five days of their diagnosis had a hospitalization rate 51% lower than those who did not take the drug. This included those who were unvaccinated, vaccinated, or had suffered a previous COVID infection[2].

Not everyone can take the drug. To get Paxlovid, you must meet certain criteria. Seniors who are curious about the drug will be relieved to note that “high risk” means you are over the age of 65 or you have certain underlying conditions, such as diabetes or cancer, that could lead you to experience severe complications of a COVID infection[3]. This matters because nearly 95% of the elderly have at least one chronic condition, with 88% having two or more, according to the National Council on Aging. However, certain health conditions and/or medications can disqualify even an elderly adult from taking Paxlovid. In such a case, other new antivirals may be prescribed instead.

What’s Actually in Paxlovid?

Paxlovid is made up of two drugs: Nirmatrelvir and ritonavir.

·         Nirmatrelvir is an antiviral pill that inhibits an enzyme COVID requires to create functional virus particles. That means that when the COVID virus is released from the cells, it is no longer able to enter the uninfected cells of the body. This stops the infection in its tracks.

·         Ritonavir is a medication that has been around for a long time – it was originally used to treat HIV and AIDS. It works with nirmatrelvir to boost the effectiveness of the antiviral medication. It does this by shutting down the metabolism of nirmatrelvir in the liver, thus allowing it to work longer in the body.

What is the “Rebound” Issue with Paxlovid?

One of the interesting wrinkles presented by Paxlovid is the “rebound” effect of COVID symptoms some patients experience after discontinuing its use. Some people will experience a rebound of the virus, often including a positive test, two to eight days after completing the five-day course of Paxlovid. This is rare, affecting only about 2% of those who take Paxlovid[4].

The CDC believes that the rebound might be part of the natural course of the infection and not a sign that Paxlovid was rejected or a person was reinfected. And while the rebound might make you feel sick, it’s very unlikely that the symptoms will be bad enough to require hospitalization[5].

If you do suffer rebound symptoms after a course of Paxlovid, you should do two things: Isolate for five days and report the rebound on the Pfizer portal associated with Paxlovid. Since things change rapidly with isolation guidance, you should use this CDC tool to determine your isolation status.

What Are the Side Effects of Paxlovid?

As with any other drug, there might be side effects that make taking it unpleasant. In the case of Paxlovid, however, the side effects are likely to be much less severe than the consequences of untreated COVID. Fortunately, Paxlovid is considered well-tolerated and the side effects, if they do happen, tend to be mild. Here are some things that might happen during the course of Paxlovid:

·         An altered sense of taste

·         Diarrhea

·         Nausea

·         Muscle aches

·         Abdominal pain

·         An increase in blood pressure

·         Generally feeling unwell

It’s a very good idea to be prepared for any illness, including COVID and the problems you might experience when taking antiviral drugs to fight the infection. That’s why an emergency response solution for seniors and elderly adults is a great idea. These systems put help right at your fingertips, available at the touch of a button. And if you’re not sure if how you are feeling rises to the level of an emergency, that’s okay – you can use the emergency button alarm as often as you need to.

Can Paxlovid Interact With My Other Medications?

Seniors should avoid Paxlovid if they are on certain drugs. Anti-rejection drugs are first on the list as a potential interaction – if you have had a transplant, you should not be taking Paxlovid. But some much more common drugs, such as blood thinners and those that treat heart arrhythmias, can also interact in negative ways.

Paxlovid can cause problems if you take cholesterol-lowering medications. However, some people can stop their cholesterol medications during the 5 day course of Paxlovid and not suffer any ill effects for it.

If you have mild to moderate kidney or liver disease, your doctor might need to adjust the dosage. If you have severe kidney or liver disease, Paxlovid is not safe for you.

Given how serious COVID can be and how drug interactions might make it difficult to take Paxlovid, it’s a good idea to do what you can to avoid the virus and stay safe if you do get it. Avoidance includes the routines we all know well by now – wearing a mask when in a public place, keeping social distance of at least six feet between you and others, washing your hands on a very regular basis, and immediate testing if you feel symptoms.

Staying safe can be made much easier with a medical alert pendant. If you do get COVID, you will want to be able to reach out for help immediately if you suffer any serious effects, such as breathing problems. If you take an antiviral that interacts with your current medications, that could quickly lead to a medical emergency. If that happens, having a button at your fingertips to call for help immediately can give you one less thing to worry about. Alert1 offers a good variety of affordable options to keep you safe.

What Other Options Are There?

If you can’t take Paxlovid, there are other options. Lagevrio, created by Merck, also works to prevent hospitalization among those with COVID but doesn’t offer quite the same effectiveness as Paxlovid in clinical trials[6].

Veklury, also known as remdesivir, became an option early on in the fight against COVID. While at first it was meant for critically ill patients who were hospitalized, it shows promise in keeping individuals out of the hospital. The three-day course must be taken within seven days of the onset of symptoms and is available only by IV or injections[7].

Evusheld, though not an antiviral, is an option for those who can’t get vaccinated or have a compromised immune system. This drug helps prevent COVID infection[8].

Other drugs are constantly in development, so this list will definitely grow as time goes on.

Should I Still Get Vaccinated?

Absolutely! You should get vaccinated as soon as you can and keep up with boosters as they become available. This is true even if you have already been infected with COVID and taken any medications to treat it or prevent it. The CDC reports that seniors and elderly adults over the age of 65 who got vaccinated had a 94% reduced risk of COVID-related hospitalization – that’s an enormous number that proves the effectiveness of the vaccine in saving lives.

Even though life is starting to get back to normal, it’s still a good idea to take care of yourself in every way you possibly can. Getting vaccinated and getting all your boosters plays a huge part in that. By taking measures to prevent getting COVID, you also help improve your odds of avoiding the flu and other respiratory viruses.

Whether you are fighting COVID or not, having the peace of mind of help right at your fingertips is vital to your confidence and security. A medical alert wireless system can ensure that if you need help, you can get it. You can press the button at any time, day or night, and trained professionals will be ready to help you with whatever you might need. These life-saving senior alarm systems can help ensure that you stay as healthy as you possibly can, even when you are dealing with an emergency.