Biden administration bolsters access to antivirals as covid cases rise
The drug has been in increased demand in recent weeks as coronavirus cases rise again, driven by the highly transmissible omicron subvariant BA.2. The seven-day average of new coronavirus cases was 47,029 on Monday, down from around 38,000 a week earlier, even as many new infections go unreported as more people rely on home testing kits.
The actions are designed to overcome barriers that have arisen when people try to get Paxlovid, which studies have shown can reduce the risk of hospitalization or death by around 90% when taken in the three to five days after the onset of symptoms. These challenges include the inability to find a doctor who will quickly prescribe the drug or a nearby pharmacy that sells it, a lack of knowledge about the drug and who might be entitled to it, and inequities in who can get it depending on their access to medical care.
While Biden administration officials have said the drug, cleared by federal regulators late last year, is now in sufficient supply — the United States has pledged to purchase 20 million treatments — from many patients faced a myriad of challenges trying to obtain prescriptions. There has also been confusion and inconsistency among doctors about how they prescribe the drug and for whom, since Paxlovid was originally licensed for people at high risk of serious illness and was in short supply during the omicron surge.
The drug is available in approximately 20,000 locations across the country, including some pharmacies, hospitals, community health clinics and urgent care centers. In some areas, however, residents may live hundreds of miles from the nearest pharmacy or supplier that sells the medicine. The administration said it expects Paxlovid to be available at about 30,000 sites soon, with a target of 40,000 sites in the coming weeks.
It will also allow certain pharmacies to order antivirals directly from the government for free.
Over the past few weeks, some patients have reported calling multiple pharmacies and even visiting numerous health clinics and emergency rooms in sometimes unsuccessful efforts to obtain Paxlovid. Even doctors shared stories of Herculean efforts to get the drug for their high-risk older relatives after they were infected.
To that end, the administration said it would work to provide clearer guidance to doctors on covid-19 treatments, including the benefits of various drugs, their interactions with other drugs, side effects and medical conditions where they might not be appropriate, according to a White House Fact Sheet. These efforts should help put doctors “in a position to quickly prescribe one of these treatments when needed,” the fact sheet says.
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued a national health advisory to doctors, ordering them not to use certain treatments, including antibiotics, in patients with covid.
And acknowledging the lack of information that has made it difficult for many Americans to know about Paxlovid and how to access it, administration officials said they will work to raise awareness. They also said they wanted to make sure people knew the drug should be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.