White House pushes COVID-19 antiviral, amid reports of rare 'rebound' symptoms

Dr. Cecil Bennett says he is still seeing plenty of COVID-19 at Newnan Family Medicine.

"I'm seeing, every day, one or two patients that may exhibit COVID symptoms, and one out of two test positive," Bennett says.

For those who test positive and are at higher risk of getting very sick from the coronavirus, Dr. Bennett prescribes Paxlovid, an antiviral he says is highly effective at keeping people out of the hospital.

"Paxlovid, we're looking at about 89% or 90% (efficacy), which is phenomenal," Bennett says. "The medication is taken 3 pills a day for five days, and again, the side effects tend to be minimal. So, with that type of efficacy, anyone who is exhibiting mild symptoms and is definitely a candidate, I would prescribe them the medication."

But, Dr. Cameron Webb, Senior Policy Advisor on the White House COVID-19 Response Team, says many Americans may not realize Paxlovid is an option, and that it needs to be taken early in a COVID-19 infection, usually in the first three to five days after the onset of symptoms.

"So, what's important is to help people navigate, as quickly as possible, getting access to that medication," Dr. Webb says.

Paxlovid requires a prescription. 

For those who don't have a healthcare provider to write one, Dr. Webb says, there are now 2,200 "test-to-treat centers," including many pharmacy clinics, federal community health centers and VA clinics, where a person can get at COVID-19 test, see a prescriber, get a prescription for Paxlovid and fill it all in the same visit.

He says an estimated 60% of Americans adults may have at least one risk factor that qualify them for this treatment.

"That includes conditions like diabetes, conditions like heart disease, conditions like obesity," Webb says. "That's a large swatch of the population."

There have been rare reports of people taking Paxlovid who have recovered, and then experienced a rebound in their COVID-19 symptoms a week or two later.

Dr. Bennett says he has not heard about that happening in any of his patients, but it is possible to have rebound symptoms.

He says he would still recommend the antiviral to eligible patients because says medicine is about balancing risk and benefit.

"I understand there may be a possibility of rebound," Bennett says. "I would tell my patients that you may take the drug, and you may not improve.  But the important thing is we at least try something to decrease your risk of hospitalization, that's really the goal, is to prevent hospitalization and death."

We asked Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Paxlovid's manufacturer about the reports of viral rebound.

A company spokesperson sent a written reply.

"While further evaluation is needed, we have not seen any resistance emerge to date in patients treated with PAXLOVID, and we continue to monitor data from our ongoing clinical studies and post-authorization safety surveillance," the statement reads. "We remain very confident in its clinical effectiveness at preventing severe outcomes from COVID-19 in high-risk patients. "We remain very confident in its clinical effectiveness at preventing severe outcomes from COVID-19 in high-risk patients."

If you test positive, and think you may qualify for Paxlovid, visit the website COVID.gov for more information on how to find the antiviral in your area.