A recent preprint study found that Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid may be effective in reducing the risk of developing long COVID in patients recovering from coronavirus infections.
The study, funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs, looked through the VA’s healthcare databases and identified individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 between March and June of 2022.
This sample size was further narrowed down to those who were not hospitalized on the day that they tested positive, had at least one risk factor for severe illness and survived the first 30 days after their diagnosis.
Overall, 56,340 participants were included in the study, among whom 9,217 were given Paxlovid within five days of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 while the remaining 47,123 did not receive any form of COVID-19 antiviral or antibody treatment in the 30 days after their diagnosis.
Paxlovid is an antiviral treatment which involves the administration of both nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. The treatment is administered as two doses of the two tablets taken daily over the course of five days. It is often reserved for patients who are at a high risk of developing severe illness.
Among the group that received no treatments, 9.43 per 100 persons reported developing long COVID at 90 days after diagnosis. People who received Paxlovid had an occurrence rate of 7.11 per 100 persons, indicating a 25 percent risk reduction for developing long COVID.
Researchers noted that this reduced risk was observed across multiple subgroups, including those separated by age, race, sex, whether they were smokers, whether they were vaccinated or if they had chronic health conditions.
The study found that the administration of Paxlovid was associated with a reduced risk of ten out of the 12 post-COVID conditions that were identified. These conditions include fatigue, muscle pain, liver disease, shortness of breath and neurocognitive impairment.
Long COVID is still not well-understood as a condition even more than two years after the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It presents through numerous, wide-ranging symptoms and experts are still not in agreement over how to define the condition.
Anywhere between 15 and 50 percent of people who contract COVID-19 may have long COVID depending on which definition is used.
There is no way to test for long COVID so much of the reporting on the disease is dependent on self-reported information. While the specifics are still being debated, many COVID long haulers, as they have come to be known, struggle with the lingering symptoms.
Recent surveys estimate that up to 4 million American workers have been left unable to work due to post-COVID conditions.
The results of the study have yet to be peer-reviewed and researchers acknowledged there were several limitations. The majority of participants were white and male and despite efforts that were made, they could not completely rule out possible errors in the electronic VA records they used for their research.
Still, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough lauded the study as “groundbreaking” and praised the work conducted by Ziyad Al-Aly, chief of research and development at the VA St. Louis Health Care System and one of the researchers for the study.
“VA’s researchers have conducted life-saving studies throughout the pandemic, and Dr. Al-Aly’s excellent work here is yet another example of VA leading the way,” McDonough said in a statement.