Biden says more Pfizer pills are shipping this week as U.S. doubles order to fight omicron

Pfizer’s treatment, Paxlovid, was 89% effective at preventing hospitalization and death from Covid in a study of more than 2,000 high risk adults, according to the company.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the treatment in December for patients 12 and older with mild to moderate Covid who are at the highest risk of hospitalization or death. The twice-daily, five-day treatment is available by prescription only.

Paxlovid is administered as three pills, two nirmatrelvir tablets and one tablet of ritonavir. Nirmatrelvir blocks an enzyme the virus needs to replicate while ritonavir, an HIV drug, helps slow the patient’s metabolism to allow Pfizer’s pill to remain active in the body longer to fight the virus.

The treatment could help alleviate strain on health-care systems by keeping people, particularly those who are unvaccinated, out of hospitals as Covid cases continue to surge.

Biden said the unvaccinated should be “alarmed” by omicron, warning that many people who have not received shots will become infected and suffer serious illness.

“Some will die — needlessly die,” Biden said. “Unvaccinated are taking up hospital beds and crowding emergency rooms and intensive care units. That’s displaced other people who need access to those hospitals.”

Biden said people who are fully vaccinated, and particularly those who have received booster doses, are highly protected against severe illness from omicron. He again encouraged everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.

“You can still get Covid but it’s highly unlikely, very unlikely, that you’ll become seriously ill,” Biden said of those who have taken precautions. “We’re seeing Covid-19 cases among vaccinated workplaces across America, including here at the White House, but if you’re vaccinated and boosted — you are highly protected.”

About 98,000 Americans were hospitalized with Covid-19, according to a seven-day average of data from the Department of Health and Human Services as of Jan. 3, up 32% from a week earlier.

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.