Despite vaccines, the booster shot, and carefully following safety guidelines, Tim Farley still tested positive for COVID, and his symptoms went from mild to severe overnight.
Within 8 hours of taking Paxlovid, sometimes called the COVID pill, he noticed his symptoms went away.
The COVID pill is extremely hard to get, but the drug is provided free to those who qualify.
Middle school principal Tim Farley has been extra cautious when it comes to COVID-19. The single father of four says he was vaccinated and boosted, wore masks regularly, socially distanced himself, and took all the precautions he thought he needed to take to avoid getting COVID.
So it was a surprise, he says, when he tested positive.
Tim was working January 6 at Ichabod Crane Middle School in Valatie, New York, when he realized he wasn’t feeling well. A dry, hacking cough and pains in his back weren’t very concerning, but somewhat irritating, he says. When several of his coworkers pointed out those are symptoms associated with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and recommended he get tested, he made a quick trip to the school nurse’s office.
“I thought I’d go ahead and get tested, even though I didn’t think I had it,” he says. “When the antigen test came back positive, I still didn’t think I had it. In our district, we also have the PCR tests. When that came back positive, I was shocked.”
Tim says he went home to isolate. But as the day progressed, so did his symptoms. By the next morning, he says, he was having trouble breathing — his breaths felt shallow, and he noticed some wheezing. Other symptoms, like congestion and a pressure on his chest, increased, too.
“I have a heart condition, so I decided to call my primary care physician,” he says. “I was a little scared. I’m a single father of four, so I worried about what could happen.”
For those with conditions that increase the chance of a patient having severe COVID, or of dying from COVID, a new antiviral medication, Paxlovid, has been shown to prevent severe illness in people who have COVID. Tim says he thinks the medication may have saved his life. But it wasn’t easy to come by.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says underlying health conditions such as heart disease can increase a patient’s chances of having severe COVID. That had Tim worried about his risk.
Around 11 that morning, he says, he called his primary care physician’s office and ended up talking to one of the nurse practitioners who knew about his medical history. After telling her about his positive test and symptoms, she went into action, he says.
“She said, ‘I’m going to get you something ordered.’ But she said she needed to call me right back,” he says. “Within an hour or two, she called. She said they’d called every pharmacy in the area to find Paxlovid for me.”
Paxlovid, sometimes called the COVID pill, is an investigational drug from Pfizer recently given emergency use authorization from the FDA. According to Pfizer, the drug is for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID in adults and children 12 and up, weighing at least 88 pounds. Patients who qualify for the drug must have a positive test for the virus and must be at high risk for severe COVID.
Supply of the drug is limited, and healthcare professionals have said the drug is very difficult to find. The nurse practitioner Tim spoke to said the only pharmacy with any COVID pills was in Albany, about 36 miles northeast of where he lives.
“I drove straight to the pharmacy,” he says. “The nurse told me to call the pharmacists when I got there and they’d bring it out to me.”
When he got there, however, patients were lined up out of the store for a block and a half, waiting for COVID tests. The pharmacists told him to put on a mask, come inside, and stay away from other people. Once he got to the counter, he says, they handed him the medication.
“There was no charge. I didn’t have to show identification or my insurance card. They just handed me the bag,” he says.
The medication consists of five packs of six pills, three of which you take in the morning and three of which you take in the evening. As soon as he got into the car, he says, he took the first three pills.
“I could not believe how quickly it worked,” he says. “Within a couple of hours, the wheezing stopped. I was less congested, and there was less pressure on my chest.”
That evening, he took the second dose. By 8 p.m., he says, his symptoms were gone.
“It was like I wasn’t sick at all,” he says.
That afternoon, he posted on Facebook that he’d contracted COVID, that his symptoms were getting worse, and that his doctor had put him on Paxlovid.
The response, he says, was overwhelming.
“It was just a regular post to my personal Facebook page,” he says. “Then, I started getting Facebook messages from all over the country. I didn’t know anything about Paxlovid. Every time I checked, there were more notifications. People were contacting me to ask about the drug or to compare notes. They wanted to know how I’d gotten it or what the side effects were.”
One woman in California with lung issues wanted to see if he’d had any side effects. For Tim, the only side effects were a little diarrhea and a persistent bad taste in his mouth — what he describes as a taste like what he imagined rancid grapefruit would taste like.
“The taste was terrible, and it was constant,” he says. “But they were nothing compared to the COVID symptoms.”
By Saturday morning, he says, he felt back to normal. He finished his 5-day course of treatment and quarantine and returned to work on January 13.
In all, he says, the experience was eye-opening.
“I didn’t think I would get it,” he says. “I’m fully vaccinated. I got the booster. I take all the right precautions. When the tests came back positive, I was shocked that I’d gotten it … When I woke up on Friday, that’s when I got nervous because the symptoms had deteriorated so quickly.”
For Tim, the COVID pill was potentially a life saver, and something he says he’s sure has saved other lives already.
“This should be readily available to anyone who needs it,” he says.