The administration has plans underway to increase the availability and uptake of the Covid-19 antiviral drug, White House’s Covid-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha announced on Twitter over the weekend.

“Over the next week, you’ll hear a lot more about what the Biden Administration is doing to make Pax widely available and easily accessible to all Americans,” Jha wrote in a Twitter post Friday.
According to Jha’s tweets, the administration is working on establishing more places where Paxlovid will be available, including more test-to-treat sites. The administration’s nationwide test-to-treat initiative involves “one-stop” sites where people are offered free Covid-19 testing and, if they test positive, they can be prescribed free antiviral medications on the spot.

Jha also tweeted that plans include releasing education for providers on how to use Paxlovid “more regularly” for eligible patients.

‘Uptake is very, very low and slow’

On the ground, it appears that the pace of Covid-19 antiviral pills being prescribed under the nation’s test-to-stay program has not reached the level that health officials expected by this time, Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN.

“The bottom line is the uptake is very, very low and slow despite there being a lot of these drugs in the market and available,” Freeman said.

“But it doesn’t seem like there’s an embracing of prescribing and doing these test-to-treat programs,” she said, adding that it seems “providers are worried about potential interactions with these drugs or that the drugs are not effective,” and that might be why they’re not prescribing them as expected.

Here's how to get free antiviral medicine if you test positive for Covid-19
But some providers worry that Paxlovid isn’t safe for people with certain health conditions — for instance it is not recommended for patients with severe kidney disease — or the medications people already take for their underlying conditions might interact with the Covid-19 antiviral drugs.

“Timing is also essential” when prescribing the drugs, Freeman said, as the therapies have to be introduced quickly once someone tests positive for Covid-19, “especially with rapid spreaders like Omicron and the BA.2 subvariant.”

“People may not be tested quickly enough to make prescribing antivirals for treatment possible, which is the key tenet of the test-to-treat program.”

Freeman said that releasing more educational materials and provider instructions and raising awareness around how to safely prescribe Covid-19 antivirals might help providers to feel more comfortable participating in test-to-treat.

A call for Congress to pass Covid funding

There are two antiviral pills authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat Covid-19 at home: Pfizer’s Paxlovid for people 12 and older, and Merck’s molnupiravir for adults. Anyone in those age groups who tests positive for Covid-19 could be prescribed the medications to take at home.
Opinion: More Covid-19 funding is needed to stay ahead in the next battle
“Paxlovid first became authorized by the FDA at the end of December. And there were very, very few pills around. The administration worked incredibly hard to both increase production and acquisition and the good news is we’ve made really substantial progress,” Jha said during an appearance on NPR on Monday morning.

He continued, “Now we’ve got to turn those pills into prescriptions and into the things that patients can get so that they can get better if they get infected. We have a big set of efforts that we have been working on and launching and we’re going to be doing a lot more this week.”

There are enough Paxlovid pills “for the short run,” Jha said, calling on Congress to pass an additional package to “fund acquisition of more pills” as well as possibility of other treatments.

The House and Senate are back this week as the White House is renewing its push for Covid-19 response funding. A $10 billion package stalled in the Senate ahead of the Easter recess amid disagreements over the administration’s immigration policy.

“There’s a lot of progress ahead but we really need Congress to step up and fund that progress,” Jha said.

He laid out some of the consequences should Congress fail to pass additional funding.

The US will run out of money for Paxlovid “reasonably soon,” Jha said, warning, “We actually aren’t even going to be able to pay our bills for what we’ve already entered into a contract with Pfizer for, so that’s going to be a problem.”

Noting that the FDA is working to identify and develop “the next generation” of “more effective and more durable” vaccines, he suggested “Americans aren’t going to access to any of those vaccines” without more funding.

And a lack of funding will impact US access to new Covid treatments, he said.

“We will not only not be first in line, we’ll probably be last in line in getting those,” Jha warned.

He expressed some confidence that Congress would come to an agreement but reiterated that the administration’s request for $22.5 billion for the global Covid response was “really the bare minimum” for funding required.

Quoted from Various Sources

Published for: Mr Blow Up