Pfizer Hikes Price of Essential COVID-19 Antiviral, Paxlovid

Pfizer has recently announced a significant price increase for its life-saving COVID-19 antiviral drug, Paxlovid. This move has sparked concerns and debates about the accessibility and affordability of essential treatments during a global pandemic.

Key Takeaways:

  • Pfizer more than doubles the price of its antiviral drug, Paxlovid.
  • Paxlovid has been a crucial tool in the fight against COVID-19.
  • Concerns arise about the affordability and accessibility of essential treatments.

Pfizer Paxlovid Price Increase

A Pfizer spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal that “pricing for Paxlovid is based on the value it provides to patients, providers, and health care systems due to its important role in helping reduce COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths.”

Currently, individuals under Medicare or Medicaid, as well as the uninsured, will receive Paxlovid at no cost through 2024, thanks to a government initiative. After this period, both the government and Pfizer will introduce aid programs to lower the drug’s cost. Without such aid, the uninsured would confront the significantly raised list price.

Background on Paxlovid

Paxlovid is a combination of two drugs: nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. This combination was granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2021 for the treatment of COVID-19. The co-packaged medications are specifically designed for people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at high risk of developing severe complications. However, Paxlovid is not authorized for pre-exposure or post-exposure prevention of COVID-19 or for the initiation of treatment in those requiring hospitalization due to severe or critical COVID-19.

The Role of Ritonavir

Ritonavir, sold under the brand name Norvir, is an antiretroviral medication primarily used alongside other drugs to treat HIV/AIDS. This combination treatment is known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART). Ritonavir is a protease inhibitor and is often used with other protease inhibitors. It may also be used in combination with other medications to treat hepatitis C and COVID-19. Ritonavir was patented in 1989 and has been in medical use since 1996. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.

Nirmatrelvir’s Contribution

Nirmatrelvir is an antiviral medication developed by Pfizer. It acts as an orally active 3C-like protease inhibitor. Nirmatrelvir is part of the nirmatrelvir/ritonavir combination used to treat COVID-19 under the brand name Paxlovid. The drug was developed by modifying an earlier clinical candidate, lufotrelvir. Nirmatrelvir is a covalent inhibitor, binding directly to the catalytic cysteine residue of the cysteine protease enzyme. In the co-packaged medication nirmatrelvir/ritonavir, ritonavir serves to slow the metabolism of nirmatrelvir, thereby increasing its concentration in the bloodstream.

Global Implications

In November 2021, Pfizer signed a license agreement with the United Nations–backed Medicines Patent Pool, allowing nirmatrelvir to be manufactured and sold in 95 countries. This agreement aims to facilitate greater access to the global population. However, the deal excludes several countries with major COVID-19 outbreaks, including Brazil, China, Russia, Argentina, and Thailand.


The price hike of Paxlovid by Pfizer has raised eyebrows globally, especially given the essential nature of the drug in the ongoing battle against COVID-19. As the world continues to grapple with the pandemic, the accessibility and affordability of life-saving treatments remain at the forefront of global health discussions.