Boost for Pfizer as Biden backs distribution of Covid pill Paxlovid

There are about 20,000 sites in the US now with access to antiviral pills, and the administration hopes to add 10,000 more in the coming weeks
Boost for Pfizer as Biden backs distribution of Covid pill Paxlovid

The US expected to receive 2.5 million courses of the Pfizer pill in April. Picture: Dan Linehan

The Biden administration will allow all US pharmacies to order Pfizer’s Covid-19 therapy pill, as it looks to boost access to the promising drug when the supply increases.

The administration announced new steps to expand access to the Paxlovid pills and encourage broader use, senior administration officials said. 

Starting this week, tens of thousands of pharmacies will be able to order the drugs, and the administration will launch more sites where people can be tested, examined and get pills in one stop — a so-called test-to-treat system that’s been slow to get underway since President Biden announced it in the State of the Union.

There are about 20,000 sites nationally now with access to antiviral pills, and the administration hopes to add 10,000 more in the coming weeks.

The White House has been encouraging people to seek out the pills, which were rare early in the year but are increasing in supply. The plans have been detailed by White House Covid czar, Ashish Jha. 

“We need to focus on making sure that everybody who is eligible knows they are eligible and they can get access to it because it is very effective in treating Covid,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki had said.  About 500,000 courses in the US have been reported as having been used so far, one of the officials said. 

While eligibility isn’t being expanded, providers were holding doses back for the sickest people early on — when the medicine was scarce — and no longer need to do so, one official said. As much as 60% of adults who contract the coronavirus may be eligible for Paxlovid, but not everyone has been able to make use of it, officials said.

The administration had about four million treatment courses available as of last month, according to a Health and Human Services briefing document provided to a senator, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg.

The US expected to receive 2.5 million courses of the Pfizer pill in April, the biggest one-month total yet. The US has committed to buying a total of 20 million courses. The pill must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

There are about 2,200 test-to-treat sites that have been set up so far. The federal government said it will work with states and other jurisdictions to set up more, one of the officials said. 

"Treatments are really the next phase of this pandemic, where we have to make the treatments, these highly effective treatments, widely available," Mr Jha said in an interview on CNN.

Demand for Paxlovid has been unexpectedly light due to complicated eligibility requirements, reduced Covid testing, and potential for drug interactions. 

Paxlovid was expected to be a major tool in the fight against Covid after it reduced hospitalisations or deaths in high-risk patients by around 90% in a clinical trial.

There are only a few proven antiviral treatments. The others are Merck's far less effective rival pill molnupiravir, and Gilead Sciences' intravenous remdesivir.

Bloomberg and Reuters

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