Highly anticipated COVID-19 antivirals now sit on shelves

Federal data suggests at-home COVID-19 antiviral pills aren't turning out to be the highly demanded game changers health experts anticipated, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy reported Feb. 11. 

In December, the FDA issued emergency use authorizations for Pfizer's Paxlovid and Merck's molnupiravir. At the time, physicians and health officials were concerned that limited supply of the pills, which are intended for patients at high risk of progressing to severe disease,  meant the treatments wouldn't be able to curb hospitalizations and reduce strain on the healthcare system.

Now, federal data shows many courses sit idle on pharmacy shelves. Minneapolis-based M Health Fairview, for example, received 2,100 5-day courses of molnupiravir as of Feb. 1 and still had 2,031 available as of Feb. 6. Similarly, it had received 420 courses of Paxlovid by Feb. 1, with 279 unused as of Feb. 8, according to data cited by the publication. 

This is likely because of the several steps —  getting tested, a doctor's visit, getting a prescription and finding a pharmacy that has the treatments — patients must take in order to get a prescription, physicians told CIDRAP. Further complicating the process is the five-day window patients have to begin the treatments after symptom onset.

"High-risk patients in the first few days after diagnosis don't realize how much sicker they're going to get, so they miss the opportunity to get better faster — and by the time they actually do it, it's too late," Bryan Jarabek, MD, PhD, chief medical informatics officer and hospitalist at M Health Fairview, told the publication. Another barrier, he said, is that some patients may not think they're eligible for the treatments because they don't consider themselves high risk even though clinically, they might be. 

"They say, 'Someone else is probably more high risk than me; why don't you give it to them?'" Dr. Jarabek said. 

Earlier this month, NBC News also reported many uninsured COVID-19 patients are opting to go without the pills, as they would have to pay to see a physician to prescribe them. 

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