Several social media users have expressed concern about the Covid pills by Pfizer, called Paxlovid, containing protease inhibitors that treat HIV. We fact-checked and found the claim to be half true.
“The Pfizer pill is a HIV 1 protease inhibitor…….” writes a social media user who shares the news release by FDA about the Pfizer pill. The user selectively highlights a portion of the post that mentions the inclusion of a protease inhibitor in the pill. The post can be seen here and a tweet is embedded below.
What is a protease inhibitor?
A protease inhibitor stops the multiplication of a tumour. In the case of HIV, protease inhibitors bind with the proteolytic enzymes or proteases and block their ability to function.
Does Paxlovid by Pfizer contain a HIV protease inhibitor?
Yes. Paxlovid pills are made up of Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir, which are HIV protease inhibitors.
However, both the substances have found other uses too including treatment of COVID-19.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “Paxlovid consists of Nirmatrelvir, which inhibits a SARS-CoV-2 protein to stop the virus from replicating. Whereas, ritonavir slows down nirmatrelvir’s breakdown to help it remain in the body for a longer period at higher concentrations”.
The FDA website further claims that “Paxlovid is not a substitute for vaccination” and is “not authorized for the pre-exposure or post-exposure prevention of COVID-19 or for initiation of treatment in those requiring hospitalization”.
The Pfizer COVID-19 pill does contain a protease inhibitor that is also useful in this particular case of treating COVID-19.
Has protease inhibitor ever been used before to treat diseases?
Yes. Protease Inhibitors have been used in the past to treat other diseases too. According to the National Health Service website, ritonavir has been used in some hepatitis C treatments.
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