WASHINGTON — The Biden administration hopes that a new push to get a COVID-19 antiviral into more pharmacies, along with getting the message through to doctors that it’s no longer in short supply, will help reduce hospitalizations.
The plan to ship out more of the antiviral comes as Congress returns from a recess this week and again tackles a stalled request by the White House for $22.5 billion in funding to provide COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccines domestically and abroad.
The new White House initiative is focused exclusively on Paxlovid, an antiviral from Pfizer that received emergency use authorization in December for people 12 and older who are at high risk for severe cases of COVID-19.
“It’s pretty clear from the uptake of Paxlovid and the rate of hospitalizations and deaths over the months that Paxlovid has been available that there are still some folks who could have benefited from these medications,” a senior administration official said ahead of the Tuesday announcement.
“So we certainly know that there’s more room to go. We can save more lives by getting the medication to more people.”
Doubling pharmacies that stock Paxlovid
Senior administration officials said during Monday’s call with reporters that the White House is working to nearly double the number of pharmacies throughout the country that stock the antiviral, which must be taken within five days of COVID-19 symptoms following a positive test result.
Those officials said about 20,000 pharmacies currently have Paxlovid available for people with prescriptions from a health care provider, but they hope to soon ramp up to 30,000 before eventually reaching 40,000. The pharmacies will be able to order it for free from the federal government, one official said.
The administration officials said there aren’t currently any plans to expand the pool of those eligible for prescriptions of Paxlovid beyond the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorization.
But the officials hope that getting the antiviral in more pharmacies and talking with doctors will help eliminate a “scarcity mindset” about the drug that has lingered, dating from the months when it was in relatively short supply.
During that period, the officials said, many doctors would prescribe Paxlovid to only the sickest patients, instead of anyone who would qualify under the emergency use authorization.
Paxlovid can reduce the “proportion of people with COVID-19 related hospitalization or death from any cause by 88% compared to placebo among patients treated within five days of symptom onset and who did not receive COVID-19 therapeutic monoclonal antibody treatment,” according to the FDA’s statement from December.
The Biden administration is “in the process of buying 20 million pills of Paxlovid,” as part of the new effort, according to one of the administration officials.
“We have sufficient funding to secure these treatments,” the official continued. “What I think we’re really worried about going forward are future treatments.”
Congress stuck on funding