With the BA. 2 Omnicron subvariant now accounting for most of the sequenced cases in New York City, the First Deputy Commissioner and Chief Equity Officer at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Dr. K. Torian Easterling, is recommending the drug Paxlovid for treatment of New Yorkers, including Caribbean nationals, who may have contracted the disease.
“New Yorkers have suffered so much throughout this pandemic, and we want to prevent any additional pain, including unnecessary hospitalization and death,” Dr. Easterling, who has spent more than six years in a senior leadership role at the DOHMH, told Caribbean Life. “Paxlovid and other treatments are highly effective.
“For anyone in New York City’s Caribbean community who tests positive for COVID, we encourage them to discuss treatments with their healthcare providers,” he added.
Dr. Easterling – a graduate of Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School, who also holds a Master of Public Health from Icahn School of Medicine at Sinai in New York – said the impacts of COVID have not been felt equally, stating that DOHMH data has shown that Black and Latino New Yorkers have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to make sure New Yorkers have access to the most effective treatments available,” he said. “Paxlovid is one effective treatment that can lessen symptoms and help keep you out of the hospital.
“This treatment also comes at no cost to New Yorkers and can be picked up at many pharmacies or delivered to your home within 24 hours,” he added.
Dr. Easterling stressed that Paxlovid is “safe and effective” in treating COVID-19 patients, and that, according to Pfizer, the manufacturer of Paxlovid, this pill was found, in one of its studies, to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 percent, compared to placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults.
“The medication works best when started early; so, it’s important to get tested as soon as possible if you start to feel symptoms,” urged Dr. Easterling, who, prior to serving in his current roles, served as Deputy Commissioner of the Center for Health Equity and Community Wellness at DOHMH, where he oversaw programmatic work focused on reducing overall premature mortality and closing the racial gap on the top leading causes of preventable death.
He said Paxlovid is an oral pill that is used to treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults and children.
“It can help you avoid hospitalization and could help you feel better faster,” said Dr. Easterling, who also served as the Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Health’s Bureau of Brooklyn Neighborhood Health, where he helped advance key programming to address pressing concerns, including maternal deaths and gun violence.
“You can get a prescription of this treatment by calling your doctor or by calling the NYC Test and Trace Call line at 212-COVID19 (212-268-4319),” urged the community physician, who said he is committed to health equity, social justice and movement-building in order “to achieve the health outcomes that all people deserve both locally and globally.”
Dr. Easterling said Paxlovid consists of taking three capsules, both in the morning and evening, for five days.
“Also, if you have kidney disease, you should let your doctor know before taking,” he said, adding that Paxlovid can be taken by people ages 12 and older, who weigh at least 88 pounds and have any condition that puts them at higher risk for severe COVID.
“If you test positive for COVID-19 and have symptoms that began within the last five days, we encourage you to take this treatment,” he continued, stating that Paxlovid comprises two different drugs – Nirmatrolvir and Ritonavir.
Dr. Easterling said these drugs should be used as directed and not be used independently.
He warned that patients should not take Paxlovid if they are allergic to Nirmatrelvir, Ritonavir, or any of the ingredients in Paxlovid.
“Some medications, like Lovastatin for high cholesterol, might interact with Paxlovid,” Dr. Easterling said. “So, it’s important to let your doctor or pharmacist know about all the medications and supplements you are on before taking it.
“You can also go to FDA.gov for a complete list of medications,” he added. “If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, discuss your options with your healthcare provider.”
Dr. Easterling said while side effects from Paxlovid are “rare”, possible side effects include altered sense of taste, diarrhea, high blood pressure, muscle aches and symptoms of an allergic reaction, like swelling of the mouth, lips or face.
“If any of these side effects occur, contact your healthcare provider immediately,” he said, adding that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Paxlovid has been given an Emergency Use Authorization, which will remain in effect for the duration of the COVID-19 declaration.
“We have more tools than ever to prevent the worst outcomes of COVID, including testing, treatment, vaccination – which includes boosters for those who are due – that are effective against these new variants,” Dr. Easterling said. “We also have ‘tried and true methods’, like masking in public indoor settings, when you are with large groups whose vaccination status is unknown.
“As a city, we have been through so much. We are committed to protecting New Yorkers against COVID and confronting health inequities,” he assured. “I am reassured that, as our toolbox has spread to now include, masks, vaccines and treatment, we will get through this together.”