TAMPA, Fla. — The United States government has invested $3 billion into developing antiviral pills to fight COVID-19 early into an infection.
The Antiviral Program for Pandemics is boosting funding for research and speeding along clinical trials to develop treatments for the symptoms of the virus.
Many doctors and researchers agree that a COVID-19 vaccine is the best route of protection for most people, but antiviral pills will help people who can't be vaccinated.
"If you can get a vaccine, that's great but not all people can be vaccinated. There are some people, cancer patients, people undergoing treatment or people genetically that have lower immune response and they can't be vaccinated so it's important to provide later protection for them," explained Dr. Michael Teng, a virologist at the University of South Florida.
Dr. Teng explains that an antiviral treatment for COVID-19 would work similarly to Tamiflu which is used to treat flu symptoms after infection, "Within 24 to 48 hours of showing symptoms, like flu, you get tested. You know you have the flu and it decreases the symptoms that you have."
That means a doctor would write you a prescription and you could take the pills at home, rather than the current after-infection treatment for COVID-19, Remdesivir, which needs to be administered through an IV in a hospital setting.
The pill would help alleviate the severity of some of the symptoms of COVID-19, decreasing the chance of serious side effects and death. Dr. Teng says one drawback to the antiviral pills is that they have to be formulated specifically to a particular strain of the virus in order to be most effective, so the development would have to alter every season, just like the flu vaccine is formulated each year.