Not every case of COVID-19 is the same. For some people, it can be like a cold or the flu. But for others, getting the coronavirus can result in hospitalization, long-haul COVID-19 symptoms or worse.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of options that may reduce the chance of severe COVID-19. Below, we cover the details and if they may be an option for you.

Who’s at risk for severe COVID-19?

While there’s no way to know for certain, you’re more likely to get severe COVID-19 if:

  • You haven’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine. . If you’re unvaccinated, you’re up to 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • You aren’t fully vaccinated. For example, if you haven’t received all initial doses or if it’s been less than two weeks since your final dose, you’re at greater risk.
  • You have a weaker immune system. If you’re moderately to severely immunocompromised you may not have built up enough immunity to COVID-19 even after getting vaccinated.
  • You have a chronic health condition. Obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and lung disease can increase your chance of developing severe symptoms.
  • You’re middle aged or older.

Ways to reduce the chance of severe COVID-19 symptoms

Scientists continue to work on new treatments, medicines and methods to help reduce or prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms that could lead to hospitalization. Below, we provide information about the pills from Pfizer and Merck and the antiviral drug remdesivir. We also cover prevention methods that include long-lasting monoclonal antibodies like Evusheld and the COVID-19 vaccine.

1. COVID-19 pills

Two COVID-19 antiviral pills are available for people who have mild to moderate COVID-19 and who are at risk of progressing to severe disease. These pills are Paxlovid from Pfizer and molnupiravir from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

What are the differences between the Merck COVID-19 pill and the Pfizer COVID-19 pill?

  • Who can get them. The Paxlovid pill can be used by people 12 years of age or older. Molnupiravir is for adults only and should not be used during pregnancy.
  • Effectiveness of the treatments. When given to people with COVID-19 who had a high chance of progressing to severe illness, both pills reduced the likelihood of hospitalization and death. But the Pfizer pill was more effective – 85% reduction with Paxlovid compared to 30% with molnupiravir.
  • How they work. Paxlovid stops the virus from replicating in your body by blocking a specific protein. Molnupiravir creates multiple mutations of the virus within your body, making it difficult for it to continue to reproduce. Because the drugs don’t attack the spike protein, the part of the virus that changes the most with each variant, scientists hope that these drugs continue to work against future COVID-19 variants.
  • Side effects The COVID-19 pills are very new, so not all the possible side effects are known. Paxlovid may not be appropriate if you have liver damage or are being treated for a HIV-1 infection. With molnupiravir there are concerns about mutations and birth defects. Talk to your doctor to find out if a COVID-19 pill is right for you.

What’s the COVID-19 pill treatment like?

You’ll need to take 3-4 pills, twice a day for 5 days.

When are the COVID-19 pills used?

Treatment begins after a confirmed COVID-19 case, preferably within five days of the first COVID-19 symptoms. So if you start to experience symptoms, do a rapid antigen test at home or make an appointment to get a PCR test – the most accurate type of COVID-19 testing – as soon as possible.

How can I get COVID-19 antiviral pills?

You’ll likely need to meet certain requirements before getting the medication. Pills are primarily going to people most at risk for severe COVID-19 based on risk factors such as being older, immunocompromised or having chronic illnesses.

If you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 at a HealthPartners clinic, and are at high risk for COVID-19, you’ll be receiving a call from us to talk about your treatment options. If you’ve received a positive COVID-19 test result from a home test, call your clinic.

2. Antiviral drug remdesivir

What is remdesivir? Remdesivir is another type of antiviral medication. In a clinical study, using remdesivir within one week of developing COVID-19 symptoms significantly reduced a person’s risk of progressing to severe illness, hospitalization or death.

Who can get the remdesivir drug?

Remdesivir was the first medication that the FDA approved to treat patients hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms. But now, remdesivir can be used for non-hospitalized people with mild to moderate symptoms who are at high-risk of progressing to severe COVID-19. This medication can be used for both adult patients and pediatric patients who weigh at least 3.5 kilograms (about 8 pounds).

How does remdesivir work?

Remdesivir stops the duplication of the virus inside infected cells. It does this by inserting itself into the coronavirus RNA strand, or the genetic code for the virus.

Because remdesivir targets a specific part of the coronavirus that scientists believe won’t change much with newer variants, the medication should continue to be effective against both current and future versions of COVID-19.

When is remdesivir treatment used?

Remdesivir tends to work best in the beginning stages of COVID-19 infection when the virus is working hard to replicate itself in your body. Ideally, outpatient remdesivir treatment should start within seven days of infection.

Remdesivir can also be used to treat adults and children who’ve been hospitalized with COVID-19. In this situation, you may receive up to 10 doses of remdesivir for your symptoms.

Remdesivir treatment is delivered through intravenous infusion using a vein in your arm. You’ll need three doses so treatment with remdesivir can be a time commitment as you’d need to go to the clinic or hospital for three days in a row. And depending on how much medication you need, each infusion can take between 30 minutes and 2 hours.

What are remdesivir side effects?

Because remdesivir is delivered through your vein, you could have side effects similar to any infusion, such as low blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, sweating and shivering.

Remdesivir can sometimes cause increased levels of liver enzymes, which can be a sign that your liver cells have been damaged or are inflamed. However, your doctor will do blood tests before giving you remdesivir to help you, and your liver, stay safe.

Remdesivir may not work in patients who take certain medications such as hydroxychloroquine sulfate or chloroquine phosphate. There may be other side effects or reasons why remdesivir isn’t right for you. Talk to your doctor about your options.

How can I get treated with remdesivir as an antiviral for COVID-19?

If you get treated at a HealthPartners hospital because you have a severe case of COVID-19, you may receive remdesivir for your symptoms.

We are currently evaluating how to offer remdesivir as an outpatient treatment for people who have mild to moderate COVID-19 and are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19.

3. Long-acting monoclonal antibodies

Long-acting monoclonal antibodies like Evusheld are different from the other medications on this list because they are used as a preventive medicine before you get sick or are exposed to COVID-19.

Who should get long-acting monoclonal antibodies?

Evusheld may be an option for adults, and adolescents over 12 years old who weigh at least 88 pounds and who have a higher chance of getting severe COVID-19.

Long-acting monoclonal antibody treatment doesn’t replace the need for the COVID-19 vaccine. Rather, it provides additional protection to people who still have a higher risk of getting severe COVID-19 even after vaccination or are unable to get vaccinated for a medical reason.

How do long-acting monoclonal antibodies work?

When there’s a virus like COVID-19 in your body, your immune system makes antibodies to fight it off. But it takes time for your immune system to create enough antibodies, especially for a virus like COVID-19 that it’s never experienced before. So, you can get very sick with COVID-19 before your immune system has built up the antibodies you need to fight off the virus.

When you have monoclonal antibody treatment, your doctor gives you lab-made antibodies designed to work like the ones that your body makes. Because you get the lab-made antibodies before you’re exposed to COVID-19, your body is better prepared to fight off the virus if you encounter it.

How long do monoclonal antibodies last?

The added protection from a single dose of long-acting monoclonal antibodies lasts up to 6 months.

What’s happens during Evusheld monoclonal antibody therapy?

Evusheld is a combination of two different monoclonal antibodies given at the same time – and you’ll get two shots, one after another, in each of your buttocks. The treatment may be repeated every six months, depending on your needs.

What are the possible side effects of Evusheld monoclonal antibody therapy?

You may have the soreness, swelling and bruising that’s possible with any shot. It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to Evusheld. While uncommon, some people had cardiac events after treatment, particularly if they had risk factors of cardiac events such as a history of heart attacks.

Talk to your doctor to find out if this treatment makes sense for you. And when you do, make sure they’re aware of your allergies and health conditions.

How do you get long-lasting monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19?

Our supply of Evusheld is limited and is being used to treat those who are at highest risk. If your doctor thinks you’re at high risk of getting severe COVID-19, they may recommend that you get long-acting monoclonal antibody treatment with Evusheld.

If you’re a HealthPartners patient and meet the high-risk criteria, you may be hearing from us soon – if you haven’t already. We’re reaching out to patients to schedule appointments, as our limited supply allows. If you are not a HealthPartners patient and you meet the high-risk criteria, please call your clinic.

The COVID-19 vaccine and booster shots

Even as the coronavirus continues to change, one thing remains the same: the COVID-19 vaccine is still protecting people from severe illness.

Who can get the vaccine?

Everyone over 6 months old can get the COVID-19 vaccine. Adults and children at least 5 years old are eligible for at least one booster shot.

You can’t get vaccinated while you have COVID-19. But once you recover, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated and receive a booster dose, if appropriate. New variants of the coronavirus are more contagious, meaning you can get COVID-19 again, even if you’ve previously had it.

How does the vaccine work?

The vaccine helps your body develop immunity to the coronavirus so that when you encounter COVD-19, your body can fight it off.

What are the potential side effects

The COVID-19 vaccines are incredibly safe. Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine are typically temporary and mild, lasting less than 72 hours.

How can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Not only are COVID-19 vaccines still the best way to prevent severe COVID-19, they are also the easiest option to get. You don’t need a doctor’s order. All you need to do is make your appointment.

Get a COVID-19 vaccine or booster

Reduce your chance of severe COVID-19 symptoms

The best thing you can do to protect yourself from severe COVID-19 is get the vaccine and follow-up with a booster shot or immunocompromised dose once it’s time.

However, if you or your children are at high risk of getting severe COVID-19, there are options that may provide additional protection – either preventing you from getting COVID-19 or to keep a mild case from getting worse. Talk to your doctor about how to keep you and your family safe.

Talk to a doctor about preventing severe COVID-19

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