COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – As COVID-19 numbers surge across the country, and in Central Ohio, a potential treatment option for the virus is offering hope for containing the pandemic.

This week, Pfizer released data from an experimental antiviral pill, Paxlovid. The analysis showed the drug is up to 89 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and death, in high-risk individuals who take the pill within several days of their first COVID-19 symptoms.

“People don’t have to wait on the couch and do nothing. They can do something proactively,” said Dr. Anup Kanodia, a Central Ohio family physician.

Pfizer is not the first company to produce an antiviral pill, and it appears to be the most effective. The FDA is reviewing Merck’s application for emergency use authorization after the company’s final data fell short of its interim results, ultimately showing 30 percent effectiveness in preventing hospitalizations and death.

The efficacy of both drugs appears to hold up against the latest and most contagious strains of the virus, like delta and omicron.

“This is just huge because most people when they get sick, they see their primary care doctor, they go to urgent care, they go to the emergency room. Now we have a tool for them that’s a pill,” Dr. Kanodia said.

He explained the treatment option could make a major difference for hospitals overwhelmed with patients. The pills for both Pfizer and Merck function similarly to Tamiflu or Z-Pak. They would be taken at the onset of symptoms and for several days thereafter, preventing the virus from replicating. Kanodia said the drugs would also stop a patient from shedding the virus and passing it onto others.

“If we’re able to kill off that COVID in the body quicker, [there’s] less contagiousness going on to your loved ones, your coworkers, your kids, your parents, you know, grandparents. So then it’s also going to help [stop] the spread,” he said.

News of the Pfizer pill’s efficacy comes as Ohio sees COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge to levels not seen for a year. The Ohio Department of Health warned Thursday about even higher numbers to come as we approach winter months, holiday gatherings, and see confirmation of the omicron variant in the state.

Dr. Kanodia said the vaccine is still the most powerful weapon against COVID-19, but having an additional, more accessible, treatment option could help mitigate the pandemic.

“Obviously, we recommend to get vaccinated. But on top of that, there is something they can do. Go see their doctor to get a pill.”

The FDA is reviewing both Pfizer and Merck’s applications for emergency use authorization. If granted, the U.S. government already plans to buy enough of the Pfizer pill to treat 10 million Americans and enough of the Merck pill to treat 3 million Americans.