The Biden administration has secured the purchase of 20 million treatment courses of Paxlovid, Pfizer’s antiviral Covid-19 pill, a senior administration official told CNN on Monday.
The administration will work with the manufacturer to accelerate production and delivery of the new drug to pharmacies across the country, the official told reporters. A tranche of 100,000 courses will initially be available to pharmacies per quarter while demand and uptake are monitored.
Paxlovid combines a new antiviral drug named nirmatrelvir and an older one called ritonavir and is administered as three pills given twice a day for five days. Data released by Pfizer late last year showed the treatment cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% if given to high-risk adults within a few days of their first symptoms.
“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,” White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said on NPR on Monday.
“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.”
While the administration has secured funding for the order, the senior administration official warned Monday that without further funds from Congress, “we will not be able to purchase more.”
Another senior administration official estimated that the use of Covid-19 antiviral treatments like Paxlovid has more than doubled in the last month – and uptake could increase as the drug becomes more accessible.
As a result, the administration will also announce Tuesday that it is expanding access to the treatment for the nation’s pharmacies through the administration’s federal antiviral pharmacy program, estimating that Americans will be able to order free antiviral treatments at more than 30,000 locations in the near future.
The test-to-treat initiative involves “one-stop” sites where people are offered free Covid-19 testing and, if they test positive, can be prescribed free antiviral medications on the spot. Certain pharmacies across the United States – including CVS, Walgreens and Walmart – participate in the test-to-treat program at some locations.
Per a fact sheet shared with CNN, the administration will increase outreach to medical providers on the latest information surrounding Covid-19 antiviral treatments “to broaden awareness and understanding of these treatments and to make sure that health care providers are counseling their patients about these effective treatments, prescribing them when appropriate, and helping patients identify where their prescription can be filled.”
Paxlovid is cleared for use under an FDA emergency use authorization for treatment of high-risk individuals 12 and older, including patients experiencing diabetes, cardiovascular disease or obesity.
“What’s important to note though, is that, ostensibly, it may feel like an expansion to some folks, because a lot of providers early on in that scarcity mindset, when there were fewer – fewer courses available across the country, were really reserving this for only the folks who they thought would be the sickest of the sick,” the second official said.
“And that’s why the provider education component … is so critical to work – it’s making sure that all over the country, in every community, providers know that we’ve got packs of it available for their patients, all of whom, any of them are at high risk for progression of severe Covid-19.”