On Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization (EUA) for Pfizer’s Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir tablets and ritonavir tablets, co-packaged for oral use) for the treatment of mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in adults and pediatric patients (12 years of age and older weighing at least 40 kilograms or about 88 pounds) with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 testing, and who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. Paxlovid is available by prescription only and should be initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of symptom onset.
“Today’s authorization introduces the first treatment for COVID-19 that is in the form of a pill that is taken orally — a major step forward in the fight against this global pandemic,” said Patrizia Cavazzoni, M.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “This authorization provides a new tool to combat COVID-19 at a crucial time in the pandemic as new variants emerge and promises to make antiviral treatment more accessible to patients who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19.”
Paxlovid is not authorized for the pre-exposure or post-exposure prevention of COVID-19 or for initiation of treatment in those requiring hospitalization due to severe or critical COVID-19. Paxlovid is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination and a booster dose are recommended. The FDA has approved one vaccine and authorized others to prevent COVID-19 and serious clinical outcomes associated with a COVID-19 infection, including hospitalization and death. The FDA urges the public to get vaccinated and receive a booster if eligible. Learn more about FDA-approved or -authorized COVID-19 vaccines.
Paxlovid consists of nirmatrelvir, which inhibits a SARS-CoV-2 protein to stop the virus from replicating, and ritonavir, which slows down nirmatrelvir’s breakdown to help it remain in the body for a longer period at higher concentrations. Paxlovid is administered as three tablets (two tablets of nirmatrelvir and one tablet of ritonavir) taken together orally twice daily for five days, for a total of 30 tablets. Paxlovid is not authorized for use for longer than five consecutive days.
The issuance of an EUA is different than an FDA approval. In determining whether to issue an EUA, the FDA evaluates the totality of scientific evidence available and carefully balances any known or potential risks with any known or potential benefits of the product. Based on the FDA’s review of the totality of the scientific evidence available, the agency has determined that it is reasonable to believe that Paxlovid may be effective for the treatment of mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in authorized patients. The agency has also determined that the known and potential benefits of Paxlovid, when used consistent with the terms and conditions of the authorization, outweigh the known and potential risks of the product. There are no adequate, approved and available alternatives to Paxlovid for the treatment of COVID-19.
The primary data supporting this EUA for Paxlovid are from EPIC-HR, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial studying Paxlovid for the treatment of non-hospitalized symptomatic adults with a laboratory confirmed diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Patients were adults 18 years of age and older with a prespecified risk factor for progression to severe disease or were 60 years and older regardless of prespecified chronic medical conditions. All patients had not received a COVID-19 vaccine and had not been previously infected with COVID-19. The main outcome measured in the trial was the proportion of people who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 or died due to any cause during 28 days of follow-up. Paxlovid significantly reduced the proportion of people with COVID-19 related hospitalization or death from any cause by 88% compared to placebo among patients treated within five days of symptom onset and who did not receive COVID-19 therapeutic monoclonal antibody treatment. In this analysis, 1,039 patients had received Paxlovid, and 1,046 patients had received placebo and among these patients, 0.8% who received Paxlovid were hospitalized or died during 28 days of follow-up compared to 6% of the patients who received placebo. The safety and effectiveness of Paxlovid for the treatment of COVID-19 continue to be evaluated.
Possible side effects of Paxlovid include impaired sense of taste, diarrhea, high blood pressure and muscle aches. Using Paxlovid at the same time as certain other drugs may result in potentially significant drug interactions. Using Paxlovid in people with uncontrolled or undiagnosed HIV-1 infection may lead to HIV-1 drug resistance. Ritonavir may cause liver damage, so caution should be exercised when giving Paxlovid to patients with preexisting liver diseases, liver enzyme abnormalities or liver inflammation.
Because Paxlovid works, in part, by inhibiting a group of enzymes that break down certain drugs, Paxlovid is contraindicated with certain drugs that are highly dependent on those enzymes for metabolism and for which elevated concentrations of certain drugs are associated with serious and/or life-threatening reactions. Paxlovid is also contraindicated with drugs that, conversely, strongly induce those same enzymes, leading to the faster breakdown of nirmatrelvir or ritonavir, as reduced concentrations of nirmatrelvir or ritonavir may be associated with potentially losing virologic response and developing viral resistance. Paxlovid cannot be started immediately after discontinuing such medications because the effects of those medications remain after discontinuation. For a complete list of drugs that should not be taken in combination with Paxlovid, see the fact sheet for healthcare providers.
Paxlovid is not recommended in patients with severe kidney or severe liver impairment. In patients with moderate renal impairment, a reduced Paxlovid dose is needed. Patients with kidney or liver problems should discuss with their healthcare provider whether Paxlovid is right for them.