30 pills, 5 days
Pfizer has projected that it will produce enough doses to treat 20 million people in the first half of next year and another 60 million in the second half. The Biden administration has agreed to buy 10 million of the treatments, known as Paxlovid, at a cost of about $530 each. Americans will probably not have to pay much, if anything, out of pocket.
As a rough sense of scale, 10 million treatments would have covered every American 65 and above who tested positive for Covid in the past year — with millions of doses left over.
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 in 2022. The federal government has agreed to buy 3.1 million of those courses for around $700 each. A Merck spokesperson said that the government would provide the drug to patients for free.
Both treatments will present logistical challenges. People will likely need to prove that they have tested positive for Covid and then receive a doctor’s prescription. At least for the next several months, only vulnerable people — those who are older or have medical conditions — may be eligible. And the treatments involve a detailed schedule of pill-taking: three pills, twice a day, for five days, in Pfizer’s case, and two additional pills per day in Merck’s case.
Ideally, the treatment should begin within five days of the first Covid symptoms.
For people who can get access to the pills and take them as prescribed, they may make all the difference. In Pfizer’s research trial, the treatment reduced the risk of hospitalization by about 90 percent among people who started it within three days of having symptoms. There were zero deaths among the patients who received it.
“These treatments are not going to single-handedly end the pandemic, nor are they going to be anywhere near as impactful as vaccines,” Rebecca Robbins, who covers pharmaceuticals for The Times, told me. “But if they can reach people fast enough, and that’s a big if, they have very real potential to save lives and ease the burden on hospitals