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Biden will make Paxlovid, a highly effective COVID drug, available to more pharmacies

President Joe Biden is seen here delivering remarks on COVID-19 on March 30, 2022. On Tuesday, the White House will announce a new push to get more doses of the COVID antiviral medication Paxlovid to more Americans.
Anna Moneymaker
Getty Images file photo
President Joe Biden is seen here delivering remarks on COVID-19 on March 30, 2022. On Tuesday, the White House will announce a new push to get more doses of the COVID antiviral medication Paxlovid to more Americans.

There is a new push from the White House to get Paxlovid, a drug which reduces the risk of COVID hospitalization by 90%, into the hands of more Americans.

The rollout of the medication has been slow since it was authorized for use in December, failing to reach many Americans eligible for treatment.

"It's pretty clear from the uptake of Paxlovid, and the rate of hospitalizations and deaths over the months that Paxlovid has been available, that there are still some folks who could have benefitted from these medications," a senior administration official acknowledged on a call with reporters on Monday ahead of Tuesday's announcement.

"We can save more lives by getting this medication to more people," the official said.

The drug is authorized for use in patients 12 years of age and older who test positive for COVID and are at a high risk for developing a severe case. Because of the many possible risk factors for a severe case, including diabetes and obesity, tens of millions of Americans could be eligible to receive the drug if they receive a positive test.

The antiviral pills are a central component of President Biden's strategy for helping Americans live with the pandemic, first detailed by the White House nearly two months ago. The government purchased 20 million doses of the drug from Pfizer and worked with the company to accelerate delivery of the pills.

Many pharmacies have not yet been able to stock the drug and some physicians have been hesitant to prescribe it over concerns about depleting the supply — which the White House now describes as "ample."

The new campaign aims to double the number of places the pills are available in the coming weeks by allowing tens of thousands of pharmacy locations to order the treatment directly from the federal government.

There is also a plan to educate providers and the public about the drug and expand the administration's "Test-to-Treat" program.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID coordinator, told NPR on Monday that despite a considerable federal stockpile, there have been problems getting the drugs off the shelves and into the hands of patients.

"We've got to turn those pills into prescriptions and into things that patients can get so they can get better," Jha said.

Dr. Jerome Adams, who served as surgeon general during the Trump administration, worries that many people who are particularly vulnerable to COVID because of poor health or a lack of access to quality medical care, including many people of color and those living in rural areas, aren't even aware that Paxlovid could be an option for them.

"The people who know about it are the people who know how to advocate for themselves, so we are seeing inequities actually expand," Adams said in an interview in advance of the administration's announcement. "One thing we need to do is have a massive patient education campaign."

Now, the White House is set to begin that education push. But after limited success convincing the public to get vaccinated and boosted against the virus, it remains to be seen how effective the administration's latest efforts will be.

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Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.