The latest COVID-19 treatments: How they work and who they’re for

Last updated: Dec 05, 2022

These medications can help people recover from the virus. But they’re not for everyone. Find out when and why your doctor might recommend one.

The latest COVID-19 treatments: How they work and who they’re for

The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic were scary, especially because there were no proven treatments when people got sick. A lot has changed for the better since then. Now there are antiviral pills and other medications that can help reduce symptoms.

The treatments aren’t for everyone. They’re meant to prevent severe disease in high-risk groups, including people who are not vaccinated, are 65 or older, or have conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or obesity.  

The good news is that current treatments often work well for many people. “In terms of symptom relief, people tend to respond to these pretty quickly,” says John Swartzberg, MD. He’s an infectious diseases expert at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “Most people say they start to get better within about 48 hours.”

Here’s a look at the latest treatment options for COVID-19. If you get the virus, remember that your doctor knows your history and will recommend the best care plan for you. 


What is it?

Paxlovid is an antiviral pill you take at home. It must be prescribed by a doctor and started within five days of the start of COVID-19 symptoms. It lowers the risk of landing in the hospital or even dying.  

Paxlovid combines two drugs – nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. They keep the virus from multiplying in your body.  For people at high risk who get COVID-19, it’s the preferred treatment, per the National Institutes of Health.

Who is it for?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Paxlovid for high-risk people 12 and older. Patients must weigh at least 88 pounds. The dose is three pills twice a day for five days.

Paxlovid may be off limits for people who are on medications for other conditions. Why? It can cause drug interactions. That’s why it’s important to tell your doctor about every medicine you’re taking, says the FDA.

What are the side effects?

They tend to be mild. A metallic taste is the most common one, according to Monica Gandhi, MD. She’s an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.

How well does it work?

Paxlovid can help high-risk people recover from COVID-19. Research found that the drug led to an 89% reduction in hospital stays and death in this group.  

Recent research suggests that vaccinated people who test positive for COVID-19 can also benefit. But it’s only for certain subsets, says Dr. Gandhi. The drug is most helpful for people 65 and older and hospital patients who don’t need oxygen, she says.

One of the largest studies shows a big drop in hospital stays and death for those over 65. But there was no advantage for 40- to 64-year-olds.

Think you or a family member may have COVID-19? Learn about your care options.


What is it?

Remdesivir is an antiviral given as a series of IV infusions. You must start it within seven days of when symptoms begin. It can keep you from getting a severe case of COVID-19 and help you recover more quickly. It works by keeping the virus from multiplying.

Who is it for?

Remdesivir is for people who are at risk of a bad outcome from COVID-19. The drug is typically given in the hospital for five days or until the patient is discharged, whichever comes first. But some people may need the infusions for up to 10 days. Remdesivir can be given outside the hospital too. That dose is one a day for three days.

What are the side effects?

Remdesivir can lead to stomach issues like nausea. In rare cases, it can cause allergic reactions.

How well does it work?

Research shows that the treatment reduces the risk of people landing in the hospital or dying from COVID-19 by 87%. Another plus: Remdesivir has fewer drug interactions than Paxlovid. And it can be used to treat young children, says Dr. Swartzberg.

Monoclonal antibody treatment (bebtelovimab)

What is it?

Bebtelovimab is a monoclonal antibody drug. It’s given as a single IV infusion within seven days of the start of symptoms.

The body naturally makes antibodies to fight infection. Bebtelovimab is an antibody that’s made in the lab to fight COVID-19. The treatment can block the virus from entering cells in your body. It can also limit the amount of the virus in your body, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The result: usually milder symptoms.

Who is it for?

Bebtelovimab is for high-risk people 12 and over. Patients must weigh at least 88 pounds to take it.

What are the side effects?

It may cause itching and red, swollen, itchy skin.

How well does it work?

Research suggests bebtelovimab is effective against recent Omicron variants.


What is it?

Molnupiravir is a prescription antiviral pill for high-risk groups. It’s recommended only for people who can’t take Paxlovid or remdesivir, according to the FDA.

The medication keeps the virus from multiplying. This lowers your risk for getting a serious case of COVID-19 or even dying. It must be started within five days of when symptoms start. The dose is twice daily for five days.

Who is it for?

People who are at least 18 years old and who are not pregnant.

What are the side effects?

The medication may cause nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness.

How well does it work?

“It doesn’t prevent hospitalization and deaths as well [as other treatments],” says Dr. Swartzberg. Early studies show a 31% reduction in hospital stays and death from COVID-19. But recent research found that both molnupiravir and Paxlovid helped treat COVID-19 hospital patients who weren’t sick enough to need oxygen. 

You may have also heard of the medicine Evusheld

Evusheld is not a treatment for COVID-19. Instead, it’s a medication for people who can’t get vaccinated against COVID-19. It’s made up of two monoclonal antibodies – tixagevimab and cilgavimab – given as back-to-back shots.

Doctors might recommend Evusheld for patients who have a medical condition that weakens the immune system – or those on medications or treatments that suppress the immune system. In these cases, the body may not mount a proper immune response to a COVID-19 vaccination.

A patient who had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine or vaccine ingredient might also get Evusheld.

To take Evusheld, a person must:

  • Be at least 12 years old
  • Weigh at least 88 pounds
  •  Not be infected with COVID-19
  • Not have had recent close contact with someone who has COVID-19


For more important COVID-19 info, check out our resources page.


Last updated: Dec 6, 2022
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