WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is taking steps to expand the availability of the lifesaving COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid, seeking to reassure doctors that there is an adequate supply for those at high risk of severe illness or death from the virus.
Paxlovid, produced by Pfizer, was first approved in December. The regime’s supply was initially very limited, but COVID-19 cases across the country have declined and manufacturing has increased. The White House is now working to raise awareness of the pill and take steps to make it easier to access.
The White House said Tuesday it was stepping up outreach to doctors, letting them know they shouldn’t hesitate to prescribe the pill to eligible patients. Additionally, the drug will now be distributed directly to pharmacies, in addition to existing state-run distribution channels. This should increase the number of sites from 20,000 to over 30,000 next week and possibly 40,000 locations.
The administration used the pharmacy channel to increase the availability of COVID-19 vaccines more than a year ago.
“Paxlovid will be widely available across America,” said White House COVID-19 response coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. Medicine and antivirals like this “are the main essential tools that we will need to get through the rest of this pandemic,” he said.
Vice President Kamala Harris, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, is taking Paxlovid after discussing it with her doctors.
Paxlovid, when given within five days of the onset of symptoms, has been shown to result in an approximately 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths in patients most at risk of serious illness. About 300 Americans now die from the coronavirus every day, up from more than 2,600 at the height of the omicron wave earlier this year.
The United States has ordered enough pills for 20 million people, which is expected to last several more months. The administration has warned that further deliveries are dependent on Congressional approval of additional funding for the COVID-19 response.
“What we need to do is help American doctors, nurse practitioners and other people who can prescribe understand that we now have a lot of them and that anyone who is eligible, anyone at high risk, should get Paxlovid,” Jha said.
He also encouraged people who test positive to contact their doctor to determine their eligibility for the drug which could prevent serious consequences.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized Pfizer’s drug for adults and children 12 or older with a positive COVID-19 test and early symptoms who face the highest risk of serious outcomes. This includes the elderly and those with obesity and heart disease, although the drug is not recommended for patients with severe kidney or liver problems.
The administration is also working to increase the number of test-to-treat sites that provide one-stop shopping for people with COVID-19 to get tested for the virus, see a medical professional if they test positive, and fill a prescription for Paxlovid on the spot.
Currently, there are 2,200 sites nationwide, and the administration hopes that support from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and pharmaceutical companies will enable more sites to put online in the coming weeks.