The UK will start giving Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 pill to the most vulnerable people next month, rolling out a treatment that could potentially save thousands of lives and help ease pressure on hospitals, the government said Friday.
On February 10, people with weakened immune systems can begin to get access to the therapy, which reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 88% in clinical trials, the government said.
The arrival of a pill that can be taken at home at the first sign of symptoms is sparking optimism about the course of the pandemic, especially amid evidence that the omicron variant causes less severe disease. But health experts warn emerging variants continue to pose a risk, and worry lower-income regions that struggled to get vaccines will be left behind again.
The UK said it has obtained more antivirals per person than any other country in Europe, with almost 5 million courses ordered so far. Merck & Co.'s antiviral molnupiravir and the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab are already being deployed in Britain, with nearly 10,000 patients being treated to date.
A European Union regulatory panel on Thursday recommended granting conditional marketing authorization for Pfizer's pill, called Paxlovid, for adults with COVID who don't require supplemental oxygen and are at risk of developing severe disease.