People who took the antiviral drug Paxlovid within a few days after being infected with the coronavirus were less likely to be experiencing long COVID-19 several months later, a large new study found.
The findings suggest that for people who are medically eligible for the antiviral — older adults or people with certain health problems — Paxlovid not only reduces the odds that they will be hospitalized or die from a coronavirus infection, but also lowers their risk of long-term symptoms.
The study, which was published online without undergoing peer review, does not indicate whether antivirals might be beneficial for other patients. And it does not give any inkling whether Paxlovid might be a treatment for long COVID itself, a question being investigated by other researchers.
The researchers analyzed the electronic medical records of 56,340 patients who had at least one risk factor for a severe response to coronavirus infection. They found that the 9,217 patients who took Paxlovid within five days of testing positive were 26% less likely to have a wide range of post-COVID symptoms about 90 days later than the 47,123 patients who received no antiviral or antibody treatment.
The patients were part of the Veterans Health Administration system and tested positive for the coronavirus between March 1 and June 30 of this year, a period when omicron variants were dominant. Those who took Paxlovid experienced reduced risk of long COVID regardless of vaccination status or whether they had been infected with the coronavirus previously, the study found.
The study authors and other medical experts said the findings provided additional motivation for medically eligible patients to take Paxlovid soon after becoming infected. Although Paxlovid has been proven effective in reducing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk COVID patients, some people have become wary of the medication because a small percentage of patients experience “Paxlovid rebound” — a recurrence of COVID symptoms or positive test results.
“For people who are already qualified for Paxlovid use, to me, really the choice is clear,” said Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly, senior author of the study. “Do you get a metallic taste, do you get side effects from Paxlovid, can you get rebound? Yes. But we have proven data suggesting that Paxlovid in the acute phase reduces the risk of severe illness, meaning the risk of death and hospitalization. And now we’re showing in the post-acute phase, there’s also risk reduction.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.