(p. A16) GREENBELT, Md. — Last month, the owner of a small pharmacy here secured two dozen courses of Pfizer’s new medication for treating Covid-19, eager to quickly provide them to his high-risk customers who test positive for the virus.
More than a month later, the pharmacy, Demmy’s, has dispensed the antiviral pills to just seven people. The remaining stock is sitting in neatly packed rows on its shelves here in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. And the owner, Adeolu Odewale, is scrambling to figure out how to get the medication, Paxlovid, to more people as cases have increased over 80 percent in Maryland in recent days.
“I didn’t expect that I was still going to be sitting on that many of them,” he said of the pills he still has on hand. “It’s just that people need to know how to get it.”
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But with the medication now more abundant, pharmacists, public health experts and state health officials say that encouraging the right people to take it, and making it easier for them to access, could help blunt the effects of another Covid wave.
State health officials say that many Americans who would be good candidates for Paxlovid do not seek it out because they are unaware they qualify for it, hesitant about taking a new medication, or confused by the fact that some providers interpret the eligibility guidelines more narrowly than others.
Since the medication has to be prescribed by a doctor, nurse practitioner or physician assistant, people have to navigate an often byzantine health care system in search of a prescription, then find a pharmacy that carries the treatment, all within five days of developing symptoms. The medication, prescribed as three pills taken twice a day for five days, is meant to be started early in the course of infection.
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More than 630,000 courses of the drug — roughly a third of the supply distributed to date — are currently available, and the federal government has been sending 175,000 courses to states each week, according to federal data.
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Giving pharmacists prescribing power could help people get the treatment much more quickly and easily, public health experts say. But regulators at the F.D.A. and other federal health officials believe there is reason to not allow pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid themselves, even though some Canadian pharmacists can do so. The treatment can interfere with certain medications and should be prescribed at a lower dose for people with kidney impairment, which is measured with a blood test.
Pharmacists say that they are highly trained and well equipped to conduct such screening themselves. Michael Ganio, senior director of pharmacy practice and quality at the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, said pharmacists could get Paxlovid to patients faster if they could prescribe it, “without having to call a physician’s office and wait for a call back, and hope it happens within five-day period.”
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 26, 2022, and has the title “With Supply More Abundant, Pharmacies Struggle to Use Up Covid Pills.” The online version says that the article appeared on p. A18 of the print version, but in my National edition of the print version, it appeared on p. A16.)