A New Study Suggests Paxlovid Could Prevent Long COVID

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Key Takeaways

  • Taking Paxlovid during acute COVID-19 infection may reduce the risk of developing long COVID by 25%, according to a recent preprint study.
  • Paxlovid is currently authorized for use only in people 12 or older who test positive for COVID and are at high risk of severe illness or death.
  • Most eligible patients have to take Paxlovid within five days of developing symptoms.

A new preprint study found that the antiviral treatment, Paxlovid, may reduce the risk of developing long COVID after an acute infection. The study has gotten attention from researchers and doctors searching for answers to how to beat the mysterious, chronic condition.

#LongCovid demands urgent action to lessen the risk of further health loss and death among affected populations,” Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, co-author of the study wrote in a tweet. “These goals demand greater attention and a much needed, but so far absent, coordinated global response strategy.”

Paxlovid is currently authorized for use only in people 12 or older who test positive for COVID and are at high risk of severe illness or death. Patients who are eligible for the treatment have to take the drug within five days of infection.

Researchers from the Veterans Health Administration followed 56,340 patients in the VA health system, 9,217 of whom received Paxlovid early during their course of acute COVID-19 infection. They found that those who took Paxlovid within five days of infection were about 26% less likely to report developing long COVID than those who did not use the drug, regardless of vaccination status.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, is only the first positive evaluation of Paxlovid’s impact on post-acute infection to be released to the public. Still, infectious disease experts say the findings are exciting and hopeful.

Millions of people have been impacted by long COVID, and tens of thousands of U.S. healthcare providers have stockpiles of Paxlovid. At a time when other resources are limited, fingers are crossed that the antiviral can offer a cure.

“It’s a very important drug to consider in people with acute infection,” said Jeffrey Klausner, MD, MPH, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Southern California, who was not affiliated with the study. “Now, there’s yet another potential reason.”

Paxlovid and Long COVID

The study findings are likely more than luck of the draw, Klausner said. Paxlovid works by shortening the duration of viral replication in a person infected with COVID-19. Long COVID occurs when the virus stays in the body too long.

As a result, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that the drug may work against the development of the chronic condition by reducing the acute damage before the virus can progress to long COVID, he said.

“If you reduce the duration of active viral replication, you’re going to reduce the complications down the line from that ongoing viral replication,” Klausner said. “By cooling off that fire of the initial infection, you may be doing less damage to your immune system, or less damage to the cells that would cause prolonged and lingering symptoms.”

The researchers also evaluated a large number of people, which may increase the validity of their results.

Researchers Have Studied the Effects of Paxlovid on Long COVID Before

Klausner said researchers like himself have studied whether Paxlovid can prevent long COVID before, but this new study was the first large-scale, positive study.

Klausner serves as the medical director of the COVID-19 testing agency, Curative Wellness, which has also been studying Paxlovid and long COVID on a smaller scale.

Curative used a database of over 40 million test results to survey people with positive results about whether they’ve used Paxlovid and whether they’ve developed long COVID. So far, they’ve surveyed over 10,000 people who tested positive and have not found a correlation between the drug and long COVID prevention, Klausner said. He added that the study is ongoing and the results have yet to be released.

More studies and trials will be needed to confirm whether Paxlovid has a clinical impact on long COVID development. For now, Paxlovid remains safe and effective for people in the acute phase of the disease, working against the severity of symptoms and chances of hospitalization and death.

What This Means For You

Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral drug, Paxlovid, is currently authorized for people ages 12 and older who weigh at least 88 pounds and are at high risk of severe illness and death. A new study suggests that Paxlovid might be able to prevent long COVID as well.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Xie Y, Choi T, Al-Aly Z. Nirmatrelvir and the risk of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19. medRxiv. Preprint posted online November 5, 2022. doi:10.1101/2022.11.03.22281783

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.