In a short span of time after the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists and infectious disease experts were able to develop treatment options that mitigate symptoms and dramatically reduce the risk of fatality in infected patients.
For the recent delta variant, monoclonal antibodies were considered the best course of treatment. Also called anti-SARS-CoV 2 monoclonal antibodies, they targeted the spike protein of COVID-19 to stop it from invading the body’s cell membrane and prevent viral entry. Since its discovery, it has been efficiently used by assisted living facilities and hospitals in the U.S. and beyond.
Coupled with the antibodies provided by vaccines, new developments in treatment options have helped us put up a good fight against COVID-19. But now, with the looming threat of a new Omicron variant, prior treatment alternatives have threatened to lose their effectiveness.
This is because Omicron is suspected to have developed more than 30 mutations in spike protein, which means that monoclonal antibodies will not cut it. Luckily, experts at Harvard University, after thorough research and examination, recognized that current anti-viral pills that mess with the virus’ genome structure may be able to defend against Omicron.
Merck and Pfizer Antiviral Pills Effective Against Omicron
Monoclonal treatments that were effective against prior COVID-19 strains are no match for the mutated and developed spike proteins in Omicron. And with that, a treatment option that targets a deeper part of the virus’ immune system is required. Harvard experts say that this is precisely what Merck’s and Pfizer’s antiviral pills, called molnupiravir and Paxlovid respectively, do.
Instead of targeting the ability of the virus to infect human cells, antiviral pills’ main function is to interfere with the replication process of COVID-19. They make it difficult for the virus to attempt to make viral copies, which results in flawed mutations with genetic errors that are less likely to be infectious and fatal.
Merk’s study on its antiviral pill molnupiravir revealed that the pill can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 30%. Paxlovid, on the other hand, is expected to reduce hospitalization and death by up to 89%, according to early data from Pfizer.
Antiviral Pills Effective, But Must Be Taken With Care
Although antiviral pills present a very promising possibility to defend against Omicron, there is also the risk of them prompting COVID-19 to develop new mutations to circumvent the effects of the pills.
Experts warn that antiviral pills should be administered carefully and precisely so that they don’t lose their resistance and effectiveness against Omicron and potential strains to come.
In addition to antiviral treatments, basic health and safety precautions such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and getting vaccinated should be observed so that we are better covered and more shielded against infection, hospitalization, and death.