COVID can wreak havoc on anyone’s health, even the young and fit. Yet if you’re over 65 years old—and especially if you also have certain underlying conditions—your odds of becoming severely ill from the coronavirus are far higher than the general population. Thankfully, there’s some good news for seniors who fear a severe COVID outcome: There’s a simple way to slash your hospitalization risk by up to 90 percent, even if you’re unvaccinated. Read on to learn which treatment can protect you after you’ve already been infected, and why time is of the essence to intervene if you do test positive.
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After two and a half years of living with the pandemic, many of us have begun to return to day-to-day normalcy. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), COVID hospitalizations are currently on the rise for people over the age of 65.
In fact, in their Coronavirus Disease 2019-Associated Hospitalization Surveillance Network (COVID-NET) report, the organization announced that “rates among adults ages 65 years and older have seen a sharp increase, from 6.4 per 100,000 population on April 2, to 31.9 per 100,000 population on July 23.”
This means that seniors and others are likely to benefit from taking a few extra precautions, including wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and staying up to date on COVID vaccinations.
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In addition to these preventative measures, experts say there’s now another important tool in the fight against COVID—and it’s especially beneficial to seniors over the age of 65. When used to treat newly infected, at-risk, unvaccinated patients, Pfizer’s oral antiviral treatment, Paxlovid, was found by one study to reduce the rate of hospitalization and death by 90 percent.
“I think it is the beginning of a ‘game-changer,'” Scott Roberts, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist said on the university’s site. “It’s really our first efficacious oral antiviral pill for this virus. It shows clear benefit, and it really can prevent hospitalization and death in people who are at high risk.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Paxlovid in December for all individuals over the age of 12 who also weigh at least 88 pounds. However, according to the study—which was conducted by Israel’s largest healthcare provider, Clalit Health Services—those under 65 are unlikely to experience the same benefits as high-risk seniors. When the drug was tested in adults aged 40-64, there appeared to be no significant benefit in reducing hospitalization.
However, it’s important to discuss with your doctor whether Paxlovid may be right for you, regardless of your age. “We want all individuals to know about this effective medication, and to have a conversation with their health care provider about if they are eligible, and whether they should be making a plan,” Meg Sullivan, MD, chief medical officer for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response in the Department of Health and Human Services told NPR.
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Paxlovid is now free, but still requires a prescription from a doctor. You can obtain a five-day course of the treatment by reaching out to your primary care physician, visiting a test-to-treat site, or by contacting an urgent care facility (either in person or online).
It’s important to begin this process as soon as you test positive, since the drug should be taken within the first five days of developing symptoms. “Once you’ve been ill with the virus for more than a week, the damage done to the body in a severe case can’t be undone by the antiviral,” says Jeffrey Topal, MD, a Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist.
Speak with your doctor now to plan for the possibility of testing positive for COVID later. Timely intervention could significantly improve your outcome.