More than 32,000 vulnerable COVID patients in England have been treated with "cutting-edge" antiviral drugs which improve symptoms "within hours", the NHS has said.
The health service has procured nearly five million doses of Pfizer's Paxlovid and other antivirals, such as Molnupiravir, via a deal struck by the government.
Paxlovid was found in trials to cut coronavirus hospital admissions and deaths by 88% and has been given to more than 6,000 patients already, 1,400 in the last seven days alone.
Molnupiravir, which clinical trials suggest reduces the risk of hospital admission or death by 30%, was approved in November 2021 and has been used as an at-home treatment since December.
'I Was Back At Work In Four Days'
Helen West, 56, from Walderslade, Kent, was given Paxlovid after testing positive for COVID and said she felt the difference in less than six hours.She had initially declined the drug, as she "didn't feel too bad".
She added: "I had initially felt fine, just a bit tired, but two days in I had an extremely sore throat, to the point where I couldn't swallow or talk, and I could barely walk."
Ms West has ankylosing spondylitis, a rare long-term condition in which the spine and other parts of the body become inflamed, painful, and stiff, requiring her to take medication that suppresses her immune system.
As her joints became painful, she changed her mind and phoned the hospital to request it.
"The process was so quick and efficient," she said.
"Within six hours of taking the first tablet, I felt a very slight improvement. After four days, I was back to work.
"COVID hit me hard, but Paxlovid really made a positive difference to my recovery."
How Are The Drugs Being Administered And Are You Eligible?
The drugs are being used to treat those identified to be at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID or of being admitted to hospital, in line with government guidance.
The treatment stops the virus from multiplying in cells, helping patients to fight the infection and get better, faster.
They are currently only being prescribed by clinicians on a case-by-case basis, but the health secretary says others might be eligible as part of a trial.
Sajid Javid said: "Both of our groundbreaking antivirals - Molnupiravir and Paxlovid - are available to those most vulnerable to the virus directly through the NHS, and it's fantastic to see 32,000 patients reaping the benefits.
"For anyone not in this high-risk group, if you're aged 50 and over or 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition and test positive, you can sign up to the PANORAMIC study to potentially access this treatment too."
The Clinically Vulnerable Families group said many severely immunosuppressed people were still unable to access antiviral treatments.
Lara Wong, its spokeswoman, said: "We welcome the procurement of antiviral treatments, yet a large number of severely immunosuppressed people are still unable to access them in their moment of need.
"Our recent poll indicated that 94% of the severely immunosuppressed were unable to access doses."