The Biden administration plans to roughly double locations prescribing Pfizer's COVID pills nationwide, citing increased supplies and continuing deaths from severe disease.
"Usage of oral antivirals has more than doubled over the last several weeks. But more is needed," a senior administration official said, speaking ahead of the plan's Tuesday morning release.
In March, the White House had released a "Test to Treat" plan for the FDA-authorized pills, allowing pharmacy clinics to get them quickly to people who test positive on-site for the virus. With Pfizer now making large volumes of the Paxlovid pills available, the new plan aims to expand the program nationwide.
Right now, there are 20,000 locations, including pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics, that are distributing the pills, which are meant for people 12 and older who are at risk of serious disease. (You can use this locator to find a place to get tested and treated with Paxlovid.)
While any doctor can now prescribe the drug, the administration hopes to double the number of places where the COVID-fighting pills are more readily available. In the coming weeks, the administration will expand the 2,200 federal Test to Treat sites it now operates.
The pills must be taken within the first five days of symptoms. A recent New England Journal of Medicine study of 2,246 COVID patients concluded that the pills resulted in an 89% lower risk of severe disease among the unvaccinated.
Paxlovid is a combination of two medications that together interfere with the ability of the virus to reproduce. Patients need to take three pills twice a day over the five-day course of treatment. The US has contracted 20 million treatment courses of the pills. More than 500,000 courses have been used so far, with 55,000 in the last week.
The release of the Biden plan to promote the pills more broadly comes as both COVID case and hospitalization numbers have increased in the last week. The highly infectious Omicron BA.2 subvariant is now responsible for about 93% of all cases nationwide.
Administration officials expressed concern that doctors are underprescribing the drugs, thinking they are scarce. "One thing that we've worked hard to do in recent weeks, and even more through these steps, was to really drive home that we've got enough of it for patients," one official said.
Deaths, which tend to lag behind cases and hospitalizations, are still decreasing in the US, with the coronavirus killing around 311 people a day, largely among the unvaccinated, according to the CDC. Vaccines are also still free at pharmacies nationwide, with experts calling them a best line of defense against the coronavirus.