NORFOLK, Va. — There's a new fighter in the ring against COVID-19, and it comes in the shape of a pill.
The newly FDA-authorized anti-viral pill from Pfizer is called "Paxlovid" and it's giving hope in the effort to pivot the pandemic.
University of Virginia (UVA) Assistant Professor in the Infectious Disease Division, Dr. Patrick Jackson, told 13News Now this pill was formed quickly once researchers started to better understand the virus.
"We have a lot of powerful tools to understand how viruses work, and once we understand how they work, we target various aspects of their [the virus's] life cycle to make new drugs," Jackson said. "I think it really has potential to be a game changer."
Jackson said the anti-viral pill could prevent serious illness if it's taken at the right time.
"Patients who receive Paxlovid within the first five days of symptoms were between 80 and 90% less likely to require hospitalization or die from COVID-19," said Jackson. "It's meant for patients who are not yet in the hospital, who are at high-risk for disease progression, and have mild to moderate symptoms."
So, exactly how does the anti-viral pill work?
In simple terms, Jackson said: it stops the virus from multiplying and eventually forming new strains, something the globe has been fighting against since the beginning.
In a more detailed explanation, you first need to know how the virus works.
Jackson asked people to imagine the COVID-19 virus as a long string. There are different parts of the string that represent the virus's life cycle.
However, as long as the string remains whole, the other life cycle parts are not activated.
Jackson said there is then a molecule called protease, which acts as scissors to cut the string; thus, activating the other cycles and allowing the virus to multiply and grow within a person's body. This process then allows the virus to mutate into other forms, which is what health experts have been seeing in Delta and Omicron.
"What Paxlovid does as a 'protease inhibitor' is, it prevents the molecular scissors from working, so the virus can make this long string, but that long string does not turn into the active proteins the virus needs to complete its life cycle," Jackson explained.
While the news of the impacts from this COVID-19 pill is promising, Jackson wanted the public to be aware there is not yet a wide availability of the pill.
He said these types of pills take time to produce, and have to go through multiple approval processes in order to become available on many platforms.
He said the COVID-19 pill does not entirely eradicate the virus, since so many people have already been infected, but it can be a key tool in slowing down the spread and eventually pivoting the pandemic.
Until rapid testing and the anti-viral pill becomes more available, masking up and getting fully vaccinated, as well as boosted, will still be your best line of defense.