COVID treatment has improved, but many wish for an easy pill

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Priscilla Medina poses for a portrait in her home in Queens in New York on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. After being exposed and suffering severe symptoms from COVID-19, If Medina had gotten COVID-19 a year earlier, she would have had no treatments proven safe and effective to try. But when the 30-year-old nurse arrived at a Long Island hospital in March 2021, so short of breath she could barely talk, doctors knew just what to do. They quickly arranged for her to get a novel drug that supplies virus-blocking antibodies, and by the next day I was able to get up and move around, she said. After two days, I really started turning the corner. I was showering, eating, playing with my son. (AP Photo/Marshall Ritzel)

If Priscila Medina had gotten COVID-19 a year ago, she would have had no treatments proven safe and effective to try. But when the 30-year-old nurse arrived at a Long Island hospital last month, so short of breath she could barely talk, doctors knew just what to do.

They quickly arranged for her to get a novel drug that supplies virus-blocking antibodies, and “by the next day I was able to get up and move around,” she said. After two days, “I really started turning the corner. I was showering, eating, playing with my son.”

Treatments like these can help newly diagnosed patients avoid hospitalization, but they are grossly underused because they require an IV. Other medicines for sicker patients can speed recovery, but only a few improve survival.

While vaccines are helping to curb the pandemic, easier and better treatments are needed, especially as virus variants spread.

“We’re seeing more and more young people get into serious trouble ... serious disease requiring hospitalization, and occasionally even tragic deaths,” the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently told the National Press Club.

The biggest need is for a convenient medicine such as a pill “that can prevent people with symptoms from getting worse and needing hospitalization," he said.

Here’s a look at what's on the horizon and the options now.

A PILL ON THE WAY?