White House website helps find COVID antiviral pills, but who can get them?

Pfizer’s Paxlovid requires a prescription and cannot be supplied over-the-counter.

Getty Images

For the latest news and information on the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

The White House recently launched a one-stop website – COVID.gov – that provides a consolidated resource of COVID-19 related information and services. Covid-19 pandemic. In addition to searchable data on COVID community levels, as well as the ability to order free teststhe new website includes a Test-to-Treat locator tool to find pharmacies and clinics that have COVID antiviral pills from Pfizer and Merck.

Although President Joe Biden’s Test-to-Treat initiative aims to speed the distribution of COVID-19 antiviral pills to patients who need them, the system is not as simple as it seems. Antiviral pills require a prescription, and many pharmacies and grocery stores that sell pills don’t have prescribers on hand. The pills are also restricted to a limited group of people: people over the age of 65 or with underlying conditions that make COVID-19 more dangerous.

Read on to learn more about COVID-19 antiviral pills and how to find where they are distributed. To learn more about COVID-19, discover the new sub-variant BA.2, second boosters for everyone 50 and over, and everything we know about the long COVID.

What is the Test-to-Treat Localization Tool?

Through the revamped site, you can search for places in your area where you can be tested and treated for COVID-19. The Test-to-Treat tool includes more than 2,000 pharmacies and health centers that offer both COVID tests and antiviral pills to treat the disease.

The app provides a map of providers and separates them into two categories: sites with COVID tests and drugs available, and sites that fill prescriptions for antiviral pills. Treatment sites include pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens and grocery stores that include pharmacies like Kroger and Safeway.

What are COVID-19 antiviral pills?

FDA cleared two antiviral pills for treatment of COVID-19: Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck molnupiravir, which carries the brand name Lagevrio. Both pills were granted emergency use authorization in December 2021.

Paxlovid is taken as three tablets twice a day for five days and has been licensed for anyone 12 years of age and older. Molnupiravir is prescribed as four tablets taken twice a day for five days and is only available to adults 18 years of age and older.

How do COVID-19 antiviral pills work?

Unlike vaccines, which protect against COVID-19 by helping to create antibodies that fight the virus, Paxlovid and molnupiravir work by interfering with the virus’s ability to replicate or copy itself in the human body. However, they work in different ways.

Paxlovid is a combination of two drugs called protease inhibitors – nirmatrelvir, a new drug that inhibits the replication of COVID-19, and ritonavir, an existing drug that slows the metabolism of nirmatrelvir by the liver, allowing it to work longer in the body. Each dose of Paxlovid includes two tablets of nirmatrelvir and one tablet of ritonavir.

The two drugs work together to prevent replication and reduce the overall viral load in the human body.

Molnupiravir takes a different approach, disrupting the virus’s ability to accurately replicate. It affects an enzyme called polymerase, which then leads to errors or mutations in the RNA of the virus.

“When this RNA is translated into viral proteins, those proteins contain too many mutations for the virus to work,” says Yale Medicine infectious disease specialist Dr. Albert Shaw.

How effective are COVID-19 antiviral pills?

In its combined Phase 2 and 3 clinical trials, Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill has demonstrated strong efficacy against severe illness due to COVID-19. When taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, the pill reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID by 88%.

Early data on Merck’s molnupiravir pill shows less success — research from late 2021 estimated a 30% reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.

Who can get COVID-19 antiviral pills?

The FDA has cleared Paxlovid for Americans ages 12 and older who weigh at least 88 pounds. If you’re taking other prescription medications, be sure to check the Paxlovid information sheet for a list of medications — including some cancer drugs and statins — that shouldn’t be taken at the same time.

Molnupiravir is only approved for adults 18 years of age and older, due to potential negative effects on bone and cartilage development. It also cannot be used by people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant due to potential risk to the fetus. Molnupiravir should also not be used by someone who is breastfeeding.

However, even if you qualify for either pill, that does not mean you will be prescribed one if you test positive for COVID-19 at a test and treat site. Although the FDA authorizes pharmacies to dispense COVID-19 vaccines and drugs, authorizations for Paxlovid and molnupiravir specifically require a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.

A report by Time says that of 3,100 Walgreens pharmacies offering COVID antiviral pills, only 250 have providers on site who can prescribe them. And NPR notes that of the 10,000 CVS pharmacies in the United States, only 10% have prescribers on site. If you test positive for COVID in a place without a prescriber, you’ll need to make an appointment with a doctor or clinic, get a prescription, and then come back to get your pills, all within five days of having symptoms.

Additionally, even to receive a prescription for COVID-19 antiviral pills, you would need to be included in a “high risk” category. The cost and availability of antiviral pills means they are reserved for people at the highest risk of serious illness from COVID. This means people with weakened immune systems or underlying conditions like cancer, heart disease, diabetes or obesity, as well as people aged 65 and over.

How to find COVID-19 antiviral pills?

Visit the official website of the Test-to-Treat localization tool. A search box on the left lets you find participating sites that have antiviral pills by entering an address or sharing your current location. A slider allows you to control the radius of your search, from 0 to 250 miles from your selected address.

After searching for a location, the results are plotted on a map to the right and listed in detail below the search. Antiviral pill suppliers are listed by neighborhood and divided into two categories: sites offering tests and antiviral pills, and sites that accept prescriptions for antiviral pills. You will not be able to receive treatment from participants in this last category without a doctor’s prescription.

Screenshot of Test to Treat COVID-19 tracking tool

The Test to Treat locator search tool returns a list of treatment providers plotted on a map.

Screenshot by Peter Butler/CNET

In its list of results, the Test-to-Treat locator tool includes links to make an appointment at the various pharmacies or health centers. Follow the link to your selected provider to schedule an appointment for testing and possible antiviral treatment.

How much do COVID-19 antiviral pills cost?

COVID antiviral pills are free at the moment, but it’s unclear if they will remain so. Congress has failed to agree on new funding for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The White House has urged continued funding for COVID, but money for testing and treating uninsured Americans ended March 22, and claims for reimbursement for vaccinations ended April 5.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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