Apr 27, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Why Vice President Harris is taking COVID pills despite not having symptoms

Picture of Kamala Harris

Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

After the White House announced that Vice President Harris tested positive for COVID-19, her spokesperson Kirsten Allen revealed that Harris would be taking Paxlovid, Pfizer's antiviral pill.

The big picture: Paxlovid is authorized to treat those who are at high risk of developing severe COVID, including cases that lead to hospitalization or death. Harris is 57, and the CDC says that adults aged 50 and older are more likely to get severely ill with the virus.

  • Pfizer said in December that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death among high-risk adults by 89%.

Don't forget: In addition to older adults, the CDC considers people to be at high risk if they have underlying medical conditions, such as cancer, kidney disease, lung disease and diabetes, among others.

  • Other high-risk individuals include people who are more likely to be exposed to the virus due to their work and those who cannot access health care.

While Harris has not presented any symptoms, she is modeling a practice that many experts say more people need to take: After testing positive, she began the treatment course before her disease progressed, Axios' Caitlin Owens writes.

  • Harris' office did not respond to Axios' request for comment, but Allen said in her statement that the vice president was prescribed Paxlovid after consulting with her physicians.

How it works: The pill is most effective when taken early in the course of the infection. The FDA says patients should take Paxlovid "as soon as possible after diagnosis of COVID-19 and within five days of symptom onset."

  • The treatment is administered as three tablets that should be taking orally twice a day for five days.

Between the lines: The announcement that Harris was prescribed and began taking Paxlovid comes as the Biden administration struggles to have its federal supply reach the public.

By the numbers: The federal government is currently making 175,000 doses of Paxlovid available every week, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

  • These doses are then allocated to states and territories. However, states have ordered only around two-thirds of what's available to them.

This week, pharmacies will be able to order doses directly from the government.

  • Additionally, the administration is also establishing "test-to-treat" sites where people will be able to get tested and, if they have a positive result, be immediately prescribed and given Paxlovid.

What we're watching: Now that there's plenty of doses available, health officials want doctors to be prescribing the pills more liberally.

  • "Any high risk person should have it. Timing really matters. The earlier the better. People should not wait until they develop symptoms to start taking it," Leana Wen, emergency physician and professor at George Washington University, told Axios.

Go deeper: Scoop: Many COVID treatment pills going unused

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