Covid Treatments Are Coming – The New York Times

A new generation of Covid-19 treatments will be available soon, and they are counting more than many people realize.

They have the potential to dramatically reduce hospitalizations and deaths. And they’re likely to be effective against the Omicron variant, many scientists believe, even though Omicron makes Covid vaccines weaker to prevent infections. As Dr Monica Gandhi from the University of California San Francisco told me, the treatments are “A big deal.”

Put simply, they can help turn Covid into a more ordinary respiratory illness, similar to the common cold or the flu, rather than an illness that kills an estimated 1,000 Americans a day and dominates the daily lives of millions of people.

Two treatments are underway – one from Pfizer and one from Merck – and they will have both medical and psychological benefits. Not only can they reduce serious illnesses from Covid, but they can also reduce fears of Covid and help society get back to normal, alleviating the huge social and economic side effects of the pandemic.

(If you haven’t read my colleague Campbell Robertson’s story on the lingering crisis in schools – including mental health issues in children and burnout among teachers, nurses, and janitors – this gives thinking.)

The Pfizer and Merck treatments are pill regimens that people take for five days after a positive Covid test. The pills prevent the virus from replicating inside the body and are largely similar to the treatments that revolutionized HIV care in the 1990s.

Pfizer’s version, which is expected to be widely available early next year, appears to be the most effective: it reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 85% in a research trial. The version of Merck, which should be available sooner, reduced the risk by 30%.

An FDA panel of experts voted this week by a narrow vote – 13 to 10 – to recommend approval of the Merck treatment. The agency has yet to say when its experts could vote on Pfizer.

“These will be a game-changer for our ability to control Covid globally in 2022,” Gandhi said.

In truth, the virus has already been largely eliminated for most Americans, and it would be surprising if Omicron changes that. The death rate of vaccinated adults under the age of 50 is practically zero, according to data from Minnesota and King County, Washington. (which publish detailed statistics); the hospitalization rate is similar to that of a typical flu. For children, vaccinated or not, the risks are even lower.

But I know a lot of Americans remain terrified of the Covid. Returning to normalcy after nearly two years of a pandemic can be difficult, especially with the real uncertainty surrounding Omicron. Once treatments are widely available, they can be reassuring, as a last line of defense against severe Covid.

Of course, the medical benefits will be even greater than the psychological benefits for people who remain vulnerable to Covid.

Deaths mostly occur among the unvaccinated, although vaccinated Americans over 65 – especially those with existing medical conditions – are also at risk. The same is true for a small percentage of young Americans, such as those who have had an organ transplant or are receiving cancer treatment. (Find the death rate for any county.)

One of the main advantages of the pills is that people can take them at home. Current Covid treatments, like monoclonal antibodies, are typically given in a hospital.

Another advantage is that they don’t attack the part of the virus that changes the most with each new variant: the spike protein. This is why scientists expect treatments to work even as the virus evolves.

Pfizer has forecast that it will produce enough doses to treat 20 million people in the first half of next year and 60 million more in the second half. The Biden administration has agreed to purchase 10 million treatments, known as Paxlovid, at a cost of around $ 530 each. Americans are unlikely to have to pay much, if anything, out of pocket.

As a rough guide, 10 million treatments would have covered all Americans 65 and over who have tested positive for Covid in the past year – with millions of doses remaining.

Merck projects that it will produce more than 10 million courses of its drug, called molnupiravir, by the end of this year, and at least 20 million more by 2022. The federal government has agreed to purchase 3.1 million of these courses for around $ 700 each. . A spokesperson for Merck said the government would provide the drug to patients free of charge.

Both treatments will present logistical challenges. People will likely have to prove they have tested positive for Covid and then receive a doctor’s prescription. At least for the next few months, only vulnerable people – those who are older or have health problems – may be eligible. And treatments involve a detailed pill-taking schedule: three pills, twice a day, for five days, in the case of Pfizer, and two additional pills per day in the case of Merck.

Ideally, treatment should begin within five days of the first symptoms of Covid.

For people who can access the pills and take them as prescribed, they can make all the difference. In the Pfizer research trial, the treatment reduced the risk of hospitalization by about 90% in people who started it within three days of symptom onset. There were no deaths among the patients who received it.

“These treatments alone won’t end the pandemic, nor will they have as much of an impact as vaccines,” Rebecca Robbins, who covers pharmaceuticals for The Times, told me. “But if they can reach people quickly enough, and this is a great if, they have very real potential to save lives and ease the burden on hospitals.”

Learn more about the virus:

The Supreme Court’s argument in the Mississippi abortion case includes “non-stop gas lighting,” Linda greenhouse argues.

Many Americans have mixed opinions about abortion. But polarized minorities rule American politics, according to David brooks.

Holiday race: Gifts hard to find this year? Video game consoles.

Idle disaster: How the northeast of Brazil turns into a desert.

Modern love: She had been too burnt to believe in love.

Tips from Wirecutter: Portable sleeping bags are comfortable hangouts.

Lives lived: Curley Culp’s strength, agility and quickness helped him anchor the great defenses of the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers and be elected to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. He died at age 75.

In memory: Remembering Hank Aaron, Colin Powell, Olympia Dukakis and many more, here are the notable deaths of 2021.

Stephen Sondheim, who died last week at the age of 91, was one of the most revered composers and lyricists in musical theater. It has left in its wake “an outpouring of lovely, hilarious, beautiful and twisting songs,” writes Jesse Green, chief theater critic for The Times. And he’s nurtured generations of theater makers as a mentor, teacher, and audience regular, occasionally sending out encouraging typed notes.

Cover versions of two of his shows are currently on stage in New York: a version of “Company” on Broadway and an Off Broadway production of “Assassins” at the Classic Stage Company. New film adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” comes out next week, and Sondheim has an appearance in “Tick, Tick… ​​Boom!” “ a film about the life of Jonathan Larson, the composer and lyricist of “Rent”.

There is no shortage of ways to appreciate his genius at home, either. Here are 20 songs from Sondheim and several of his productions that you can stream right now. These 10 videos also highlight some of Sondheim’s best works, including one where Meryl Streep, Audra McDonald and Christine Baranski make cocktails while dressed in bathrobes. – Sanam Yar, a morning writer.

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