Just before regulators authorized use of a widely publicized Covid-19 pill from Pfizer, only half of Americans were aware the treatment could prevent hospitalization or death, according to a new survey by STAT and The Harris Poll. The survey also found vaccinated people were much likelier to say they’d take the medicine than those who have not been vaccinated.
The Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization last week to the antiviral pill, which is called Paxlovid, a move seen as a significant step in combating the coronavirus. Only 72% of the adult population in the U.S. is fully vaccinated and just 24% have received a booster dose, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In studies, the pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 88% compared to a placebo among patients treated within five days of experiencing Covid-19 symptoms. Yet interest in the Pfizer pill varies significantly, according to the STAT-Harris poll, which queried 2,103 Americans over 18 years old between Dec. 17 and Dec. 19, three days before the FDA endorsed the medication.
Of those who were familiar with the Pfizer pill, the poll found 84% are likely to take it if they test positive for the coronavirus, with no large differences between generations, racial groups, or political affiliations.
But there was one key difference: 91% of vaccinated people would take the pill, but only 52% of all unvaccinated Americans said they are very or somewhat likely to do do so. The likelihood an unvaccinated person would take the pill dropped even further — to 35% — among those who said they would never get vaccinated, compared to unvaccinated people who said they will “wait and see.”
To an extent, the findings seem to mirror the calcified views held toward Covid-19 vaccines for the past year. For instance, political affiliations do underscore somewhat differing perceptions of the Pfizer pill, not just vaccines. Nine in 10 Democrats who are familiar with the pill think it will effectively help manage the virus, compared with 79% of Republicans who knew about Paxlovid.
Overall, slightly less than half — or 46% — of all unvaccinated Americans indicated they are unwilling to receive a vaccine or the Pfizer pill. Breaking it down, nearly half of unvaccinated women, millennials, members of Gen X, and Republicans were unwilling to get vaccinated or take the pill, if they were to get infected.
Slightly more than half of unvaccinated people living in rural areas and those identifying as politically independent would avoid both.
Yet some unvaccinated Americans who are familiar with the Pfizer pill would prefer it to a vaccine. Why? One in five believes the development of the vaccines was rushed, but not the development of the pill. A similar proportion find taking pills safer and also less invasive. (We should note the poll occurred before the FDA authorized a pill from Merck that offers less effectiveness than Paxlovid and has generated less enthusiasm).
By contrast, nearly six in 10 of those who are vaccinated believe the pill can supplement vaccines in the fight against the pandemic, compared with 31% of unvaccinated Americans who are aware of Paxlovid. However, nearly a quarter of those who are vaccinated wrongly believe the pill will reduce the need for vaccines and boosters, and that increases to 40% among those who are unvaccinated.
“Paxlovid’s initial market is more likely to be vaccinated (and boosted) urban liberals who are older, or who have chronic conditions,” said John Gerzema, the Harris Poll chief executive officer.
“However, there are hopeful signs for the drug to be more widely accepted as nearly eight in 10 Republicans consider it effective and nearly a quarter of the unvaccinated believe the pill ‘was not rushed’ and prefer it to a jab. As America ‘surfs variants’, you could see it — and Merck’s pill — becoming a popular way to treat future exposures.”