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FRIDAY, May 27, 2022 – Getting ahold of the COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid could get easier, the White House announced on Thursday.
"We want to make Paxlovid as widely available across the entire country, so that if you do end up getting a breakthrough infection, you're still protected against serious illness," said White House Covid-19 Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha.
Paxlovid and vaccines are credited with a declining rate of deaths from COVID, despite an infection rate that has quadrupled since late March. Currently there are 105,000 confirmed infections in the U.S. daily, a number that is likely undercounting actual cases because of unreported positives on at-home test kits. Jha estimated the true case numbers to be around 200,000 or more daily.
The first test-to-treat site backed by the federal government is opening in Rhode Island and more are scheduled to open in the coming weeks in Massachusetts and New York City, according to the Associated Press.
Those sites will provide patients who test positive with immediate access to the drug.
The U.S. is also sending authorized federal prescribers to several Minnesota-run testing sites next week, so that they, too, can test-to-treat.
Meanwhile, federal regulators have sent more clear guidance to physicians, so that they can more effectively determine how to manage Paxlovid's interactions with other drugs a patient may already be taking.
While cases of COVID-19 may be surging, this is the first time during the pandemic that infections and death rates have not trended together.
“What has been remarkable in the latest increase in infections we're seeing is how steady serious illness and particularly deaths are eight weeks into this,” Jha said. “COVID is no longer the killer that it was even a year ago.”
When people with COVID infections take Paxlovid within five days of symptoms appearing, there is a 90% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths in patients most likely to get severe disease.
About 25,000 to 30,000 courses of Paxlovid are being prescribed each day in the U.S., a four-fold increase over the past six weeks. After key changes were made in how Paxlovid is distributed to states, the number of pharmacies doubled during May to 40,000, the AP said.
But vaccines and booster shots are still crucial, Jha added.
“We are now at a point where I believe fundamentally most COVID deaths are preventable, that the deaths that are happening out there are mostly unnecessary and there are a lot of tools we have now to make sure people do not die of this disease,” Jha said.
Jha strongly urged Americans to get their boosters. If they are fully vaccinated and still get a breakthrough infection, they should ask their doctors about getting Paxlovid.
If people use all these available tools, it will be safer to gather, Jha said.
However, “in places in the country where boosting rates are much lower, where the infection is starting to spread more, I am absolutely concerned that we're going to see, unfortunately, we may see more serious illness,” Jha said.
“Being vaccinated and boosted is a huge part of making sure that those kinds of activities are substantially safer,” he added.
Though the U.S. has ordered 20 million courses of Paxlovid from drugmaker Pfizer, the country may run out this winter if there is a surge and the drug is widely used, the AP noted.
The White House has been asking Congress for additional funds for months to purchase more Paxlovid, as well as other treatments and boosters.
“I believe that we should be using as much as it's necessary to protect Americans now,” Jha said.
The administration may also have to ration the federal supply of vaccines if Congress doesn't act to boost funding, he said.
SOURCE: Associated Press
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