Steps to obtain Paxlovid (a medication that prevents COVID hospitalization)

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It is not easy to access the Pfizer COVID Paxlovid fast.

Fabian Sommer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

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Fabian Sommer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

It is not easy to access the Pfizer COVID Paxlovid fast.

Fabian Sommer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

If you’ve just tested positive for COVID-19, and you have common risk factors for serious illness, there are now ample treatments available – generally at little or no cost – that could help you avoid the worst and recover more quickly from a mild or moderate case of COVID. Paxlovid is a recommended treatment. It’s a 5-day course of Pfizer pills. Studies from the drugmaker showed that – in unvaccinated people at risk of serious COVID medical risk factors – Paxlovid was nearly 90% effective at cutting the risks of getting hospitalized or dying because of COVID. Even if you are already vaccinated, or have had COVID, people with the same condition as Dr. Priya, an infectious diseases physician at Montefiore Health System and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, could still be able to benefit from this drug. Nori states that Paxlovid can “help you get on your feet quicker, feel better, and potentially be less infectious.” Biden’s administration has encouraged the use of this treatment. “We want to inform all people about this drug and encourage them to talk to their doctors about whether or not they may be eligible.

Some people still have difficulty getting medicine fast, even though the government has made every effort to make it easy for them to get the medication after they test positive for COVID-19.

Accessing Paxlovid quickly can prove difficult

When Dan Weissman (54), received COVID in April, he tried 3 different ways to get Paxlovid. First, there weren’t any appointment slots at the CVS Minute Clinic nearby. Next, the nurse at his urgent care clinic misunderstood him and refused to prescribe pills. Finally, his wife found his retired primary care physician and wrote him a prescription. Weissman was glad that he took the medication. His health improved. He says that it was not easy to get the pills, but that it required “unusual amounts of knowledge and connections as well as assertiveness.” Weissman was the host of An Arm and A Leg, a podcast about health. After a few days of COVID symptoms Pamela Coukos discovered that her college-aged son had tested positive. He seemed very sick and had one of the risk factors. Coukos adds that it would have been better for him to spend 10 days not feeling so bad because he was taking final exams. However, the university health system was closing and the closest “test-to-treat” location didn’t have opening hours on weekends. His primary care physician in Maryland was able to schedule a Saturday telehealth visit. He then sent the prescription to an upstate New York pharmacy. It was picked up by a friend who drove 26 miles to get it. The student who was sick took the medication, and was fully recovered on Wednesday. Coukos states that the exam was successful but more difficult than necessary.

COVID pills are authorized by FDA for people at high risk of disease progression – and in practice, the risk criteria have broadened as supply has increased, says Dr. Phyllis Tien, an infectious disease physician at University of California, San Francisco, who serves on the National Institutes of Health’s COVID-19 Treatment Guidelines Panel. Pill supplies were scarce during the winter omicron spike, so many healthcare providers only prescribed Paxlovid for those with severe underlying conditions or older patients. Now, health conditions such as high cholesterol, depression, smoking-related lung disease, obesity, not being fully vaccinated or boosted – all factors that increase a person’s risk for severe COVID outcomes – might qualify a recently infected COVID patient for a course of Paxlovid. Tien said that anyone who wants the drug and qualifies for it should have access to it.

The key is a prescription

Prescriptions are required for antiviral medication. They must be initiated within five days from the onset of symptoms. A positive COVID-19 result is required to get a prescription. You’ll also need to discuss your risks and medications with a healthcare provider. Paxlovid – a combination of two antiviral drugs called nirmatrelvir and ritonavir – can’t be taken at the same time as some common supplements and medications, including statins and some birth control pills. Jacinda Abul-Mutakabbir, assistant professor at Loma Linda University School of Pharmacy says that there are many drug interactions. Before you can receive your medication, it is important to disclose any additional medications. People with impaired liver or kidney function could be at risk. There are other COVID-19 early COVID-19 therapies that may be recommended by a healthcare provider for those who cannot take Paxlovid. These include monoclonal antibody injections and remdesivir. Molnupiravir is a Merck five-day tablet treatment. However, it’s prescribed less frequently than Paxlovid. Merck’s drug was found to reduce hospitalization by 30% in a clinical study. Common side effects of taking Paxlovid include a metallic taste, diarrhea, increased blood pressure and muscle aches – all temporary. Abdul-Mutakabbir says that while these side effects may not be ideal, they are still better than the ones we’d see if severe COVID were to occur. If you are eligible, here’s how to access COVID drugs.

Talk to your primary doctor

If you have health insurance, access to your primary care provider or team member, and are able to make an appointment in person or via telehealth, you will be able to receive a test (or share your positive tests results), and to assess for medication risks. You may also obtain a prescription for the drugs if necessary. After that, you’d get your prescription filled at the nearest pharmacy. According to Dr. Ulrika Wolfft of CentraCare Sauk Center in Minnesota, having a physician who is familiar with your medical history as well as your current condition can prove very beneficial. Did you take the test on your first day? [of symptoms]? What was your second test? Did you feel sick when you were tested? Are the risks worth it if your symptoms improve? According to her, “Having someone help you navigate this individual patient-to-patient” will guide your care.

You can visit a Test-To-Treat Site

A second way to get Paxlovid treatment is to visit one of 2,300 clinics, pharmacies or health centers that have been designated “test to treat” by the government. These sites have the ability to prescribe and keep medications on hand. “For individuals who do not have a health care provider, or are unable to access their health care provider within a short time frame…test-to-treat locations offer testing and evaluation with a health care provider to determine if that medication is appropriate, and can dispense the medication on-site,” says Sullivan of HHS. You can find test-to treat locations on this map. Sabrina Corlette from Georgetown University is the codirector of Center on Health Insurance Reforms. She says that before you travel, make sure to check with your insurance to ensure they are covered. For people without insurance, there are some test-to treat sites. They can offer COVID testing at a low price and provide treatment services.

You can get urgent help online

For those who prefer telehealth visits – and may not be able to get an appointment quickly through their primary health care provider – virtual healthcare platforms such as Plushcare, eMed and Truepill offer online visits to test, assess and prescribe COVID medications. You can make appointments at your convenience and there may be some charges beyond what you pay. You can send a prescription to your nearest pharmacy or have it filled and sent directly to you depending on the services offered. “The pro of this approach is that it’s designed just for this purpose – of testing and treating for COVID,” says Montefiore’s Nori. It will efficiently provide the necessary service. They won’t be able understand all aspects of your life, including your family context or medical history. She says that although they rely on you to provide all of your medication and herbal remedies, it may be able to give you timely access to the treatment.

You can save time by planning ahead

Experts recommend these four steps if you are concerned about COVID.

  • If you think you may have COVID, be prepared to quickly test. Sullivan, HHS: “Have COVID tests at home. Or know where to get one.” 
  • Find out if you are at risk. Find out if there are any conditions that could make you vulnerable to COVID. Also, talk to your physician about possible COVID treatment options.
  • You can find out the details of your insurance and get an appointment quickly. You are likely to have your insurance cover more services that you use in the network.
  • Locate pharmacies that sell Paxlovid near you so you’re able to fill your prescription.
  • Keep up-to-date on COVID-19 shots to protect you and others around from contracting the disease. The only thing to be aware of is the cost. Although the pills come free of charge, you may have to pay some fees. According to Georgetown’s Corlette, testing, prescriptions, follow-up, and consultations can all cost money, depending on your coverage. If you have health insurance, it is a good idea to seek out care within your network. For those who don’t, federally-qualified health centers may be able to provide free or low-cost services.

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