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Antiviral medication orders for the White House’s Covid-19 test-to-treat program are underway. More than 1,000 in-pharmacy clinics across the United States registered Monday to participate in the initiative and to order shipments of Covid-19 antiviral medications, Dr. Tom Inglesby, senior adviser to the White House’s Covid-19 Response Team, told CNN.

“The ordering process has launched today in pharmacy-based clinics around the country,” Inglesby said.

“We’ve had more than 1,000 pharmacy-based clinic sites register today, so that even exceeded our expectations for day one of this program,” he said, and now “the ordering process is underway.”

But this doesn’t mean people can get Covid-19 treatment through the program just yet; orders have to be shipped and delivered first.

“The process has been initiated through this ordering portal today,” Inglesby said.

As orders for the antiviral medications come in, Inglesby said, shipments will be sorted out today or Tuesday.

Last week, in its new National Covid-19 Preparedness Plan, the White House announced the nationwide test-to-treat initiative under which people can visit “one-stop” sites that offer free Covid-19 testing and prescribe free antiviral medications on the spot if they test positive.

Only one positive Covid-19 test is needed for treatment, Inglesby said, and it does not have to be a PCR test. “Any positive test should be sufficient.”

The sites will be pharmacies that also have clinics, and the Biden administration noted in its preparedness plan that these sites will be operational this month.

“The government will be using a network of pharmacies that provide clinical services – so, think of a CVS that has a Minute Clinic in it,” Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, told CNN last week. “This program is meant to cut down on the time it takes to test and treat people, and it’s especially focused on getting people with underlying medical conditions into treatment with the antivirals faster.”

‘Critical to expanding access’

The American Medical Association on Friday released a statement noting concern about allowing pharmacy-based clinics to prescribe antivirals to Covid-19 patients who come in for testing, since the clinic might not know the patient’s full medical history or other medications they’re taking, as a primary care physician would.

But on Saturday, the AMA said in a new statement that the Biden administration has reassured the group that patients with access to a primary care physician should contact their physician after testing positive for Covid-19 to discuss their treatment options.

“The purpose of this program is to maximize and accelerate the delivery of antivirals to people who are at the greatest risk of severe Covid infection, and as part of that, we need to make sure we get treatment to people as quickly as possible after they test positive,” Inglesby told CNN.

“Right now, we have a number of existing channels around that – people can talk to their physicians and get testing and treatment through state or jurisdictional efforts – but it was clear that many people don’t have easy access to a health care provider,” he said. “We’ve launched the test-to-treat initiative, which will allow people to be tested and seen by a health care provider and then get prescribed antiviral medications all in one place, which will make it much easier, much faster for people who need therapy the most to get on treatment quickly.”

The test-to-treat program “is critical to expanding access to these therapies by co-locating testing, test results and therapeutic prescriptions. It’s a really important step and one that we’re really excited about,” Dr. Cameron Webb, senior policy adviser for equity on the White House’s Covid-19 response team, told CNN on Monday.

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. Webb said that one of the main goals of the test-to-treat program is to give more people more access to those treatments, as many might not have a primary care provider who can quickly test and treat them for Covid-19.

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“One of the really important pieces of this initiative is it helps create for them a pathway to get access to these therapeutics and to do so through an appropriate prescriber, as per the FDA,” Webb said, adding that under the emergency use authorization of the treatments, prescribers can be physicians, advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants.

“Of course, for folks who do have a primary care provider and they’re able to get in touch with them, by all means, absolutely reach out to your provider, the person who knows you really well,” Webb said. “When you center a program in equity, you realize that not everybody is in that situation.”