Report: 1 in 3 Israelis offered COVID treatment pill are refusing it

Despite being in high-risk groups, some people are turning down paxlovid, feeling their illness is too mild to be of concern, official says

Illustrative: A man spills pills into his hand from a bittle (FotoDuets; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative: A man spills pills into his hand from a bittle (FotoDuets; iStock by Getty Images)

About one in three Israelis offered treatment with Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill paxlovid have refused to take the drug, according to a report Tuesday.

Israel began distributing the first coronavirus pills to at-risk patients on Sunday. Paxlovid has been found in tests to be very effective in preventing the disease from becoming severe.

Channel 12 news said that about 1,000 people have started taking the pill. But some 400 people have refused to take it, despite being eligible.

Due to limited initial supplies, only patients considered to be at high risk can currently get the pill.

Doron Netzer of Clalit Health Services told the network that at his Health Maintenance Organization, some half of those offered the pill had declined.

“When we look into it, it turns out most people believe their illness is mild, and so even though they are at high-risk levels, they refuse to get the treatment.”

As with vaccines, some of that attitude may be tied to taking a drug that is new and, in some people’s eyes, not sufficiently tested (though the report did not say whether was any relation between individuals’ vaccination status and their attitude toward the pill).

Paxlovid is designed for at-home treatment of high-risk COVID-infected patients over the age of 12. Pfizer told the FDA that in a 2,250-patient trial, the pill cut hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent when given to people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 within three days of symptoms. Less than 1% of patients taking the drug were hospitalized and none died at the end of the 30-day study period, compared with 6.5% of patients hospitalized in the group getting a placebo pill, which included nine deaths.

Paxlovid has only proven effective if given within five days of symptoms appearing. The treatment consists of three pills taken twice a day for five days. Two of the pills are Paxlovid and the third is a different antiviral that helps boost levels of the main drug in the body.

The first shipment of the Pfizer pills landed in Israel on Thursday, one of the first countries in the world to receive the new drug.

The delivery consisted of several tens of thousands of pills. The medication is said to cost the country around $530 per patient, though it isn’t yet clear what the price will be for Israeli patients.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the first shipment consisted of 20,000 doses of the pill. Israel has signed a deal with Pfizer to purchase 100,000 doses overall, according to Hebrew media reports.

Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid (Courtesy)

Israel’s rush to obtain COVID treatment pills comes as the highly infectious Omicron variant has rapidly driven up morbidity in what is now the country’s fifth wave of coronavirus.

Though Omicron is generally milder than previous strains of COVID-19, it is also far more infectious. Recent days have seen daily case counts steadily rise, with Monday’s numbers at 41,000.

Statistically, this means many severe cases will still crop up. Experts have said they expect Israel to see over 1,000 severe cases in the coming weeks, with some estimates putting the number over 2,000.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday said that with Israel once again the grips of the pandemic, “We are confronting a wave of infection the likes of which the world has not seen in 100 years… These will be difficult weeks… There is no place for panic or hysteria. We’ll get through this together.”

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