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What to expect with the developing Pfizer COVID pill for those already sick

A sign outside a West Seattle vaccine site. (MyNorthwest photo)

Pfizer is working on a pill that you could give to somebody who already has COVID, which is in clinical trials at the moment. It’s an effort that’s been a long time in the making. What can we expect of it? Mercer Island MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“I mean, it’s really important that we first understand: Why do we even need a pill? Some people may say, ‘Well, look, we’ve got the vaccines, … and they’re able to prevent us from getting the illness or reduce the severity of the illness, and what do we need the pill for?’ But the fact of the matter is we all know that not everybody is going to get the vaccine and there will be people who will get sick,” he said.

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“We also know that the vaccine is not 100% effective. And so some people will get sick irrespective of being vaccinated. So as with most things, we need some sort of simple, low cost pill that we can basically hand to people who are sick and they’ll get better.”

Developing a pill for any virus like COVID has long been a major goal for the medical community, but it’s a difficult one, even as the Pfizer pill looks promising.

“In the era pre-antibiotics, people used to get bacterial infections and die from them, but then antibiotics came and we were able to then give people antibiotics and treat bacterial infections. For years now, people worked — not only did we have the flu vaccine — people worked on developing a pill for flu. And so many people will be familiar with the drug Tamiflu, and Tamiflu is a drug that can be given to people who have an infection with influenza virus,” he said.

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“But the problem is, oftentimes these antiviral medications aren’t that effective and in some ways it’s sort of the panacea of medicine to develop an effective antiviral drug that we really don’t have for any virus right now,” Dr. Cohen said. “This information that’s coming out about this new drug from Pfizer that is an antiviral drug is encouraging. But in all honesty, there’s probably not any virus right now that we treat solely with a single antiviral medication — usually it’s a cocktail or a variety of different things.”

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