Joe Biden has contracted Covid-19 and has started taking Pfizer’s antiviral pill to combat the disease, the White House announced.
The 79-year-old US president tested positive on Thursday morning, according to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, and will work from isolation until he tests negative. The White House said he is fully vaccinated with two additional booster shots and was experiencing “very mild symptoms”.
Jean-Pierre said in a statement: “Out of an abundance of transparency, the White House will provide a daily update on the president’s status as he continues to carry out the full duties of the office while in isolation.”
Kevin O’Connor, the president’s doctor, said in a letter that Biden was experiencing a runny nose, dry cough and fatigue.
He added: “The president has been fully vaccinated and twice-boosted, so I anticipate he will respond favourably, as most maximally protected patients do. Early use of [Pfizer’s drug] Paxlovid in this case provides additional protection against severe disease.”
The president was due to travel to Pennsylvania to make announcements on criminal justice and policing on Thursday, but has cancelled that trip, as well as a planned weekend at his home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Vice-president Kamala Harris’s office announced on Thursday that she had tested negative for Covid-19, and Jill Biden, the first lady, tweeted the same.
Biden came to office on a promise of regaining control of the pandemic, accusing his predecessor Donald Trump of having let the disease spread out of control.
But while the president has overseen a successful vaccine rollout, his efforts to quash the virus have been hampered by low take-up of jabs in some areas and new variants that have proved more infectious.
Since April, case numbers have risen in the US from around 28,000 new infections a day to 120,000. Deaths have remained steady however at around 400 a day.
So far the president has avoided catching the virus. On the campaign trail in 2020, officials described him as being very strict about ensuring those around him wore masks and did not come too close to him.
Paxlovid is currently available to those in the US who are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms and are at high risk of contracting severe disease. Biden has previously talked glowingly of its importance in helping control the spread of the virus, and his administration has allowed pharmacists to prescribe it in an effort to maximise its use.
There are signs, however, that some patients have suffered “rebound” effects once they stop taking the drug. This happened to Biden’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, who said the symptoms were much worse when they returned days after he seemed to have cleared the disease.
Eric Topol, a cardiologist and the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said that Biden is at high risk for Covid-19 because of his age, but he has no underlying conditions that would make him more vulnerable.
“They have given him Paxlovid quickly which may give him added protection, since he is at high risk for hospitalisation. They have pulled out all the stops,” he said. “He should do pretty well . . . but it’s never for sure.”
The Pfizer drug is given with ritonavir, an HIV medicine, which ensures the active ingredients stick around in the body for long enough to tackle the virus. But ritonavir cannot be taken with many common drugs, so Biden may need to stop taking some of his regular medication.
In his last medical, the US president’s doctor said he was prescribed the blood thinner Eliquis, the cholesterol treatment rosuvastatin, and a nasal spray for allergic rhinitis.
The National Institutes of Health recommend patients taking Paxlovid reduce the dose of Eliquis, and said they may be advised to stop taking rosuvastatin for the duration of the treatment and for at least two to three days afterwards. He may also be advised to stop taking the nasal spray.
Topol said no medical problems would be caused by stopping taking these drugs temporarily, even if Biden were to need to take two courses of Paxlovid, over 10 days.