WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — US regulators in December approved the use of two oral antiviral pills from separate drug makers to fight COVID-19.
The pills have made it to Florida but finding them can be challenging.
The first pill, a Pfizer drug that Americans can take at home to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death, was approved in the US on Dec. 22.
The second pill, an antiviral drug made by Merck, named molnupiravir, was approved a day later.
Both pills, which prevent the virus from replicating, are the first US medications that don’t require an injection or an IV to help reduce the symptoms related to COVID-19.
Pfizer said last month that trial results show their pill cut rates of hospitalization by nearly 90% among patients with mild-to-moderate infections.
Pfizer’s pill, known as Paxlovid, is not authorized for the pre-exposure or post-exposure prevention of COVID-19 or for initiation of treatment in those requiring hospitalization due to severe or critical symptoms.
Dr. Larry Bush, an infectious disease specialist in Wellington, emphasized that people will still need to have a prescription from their doctor to receive the pill.
“First you have to be identified as a patient who has been recently diagnosed with COVID in the past five days, have mild to moderate symptoms and meet at least a mild risk factor,” Bush said.
The doctor said it is very important for the person who prescribes or dispenses the medication to be aware of other medicines you may be taking to prevent any negative reactions.
Doctors are still trying to figure out which pharmacies have the antiviral pills.
“There’s not enough doses. Therefore, you’d have to know specific ones, which may be nowhere near where you live,” Bush said.
The state health department website for COVID treatments shows only one location in Palm Beach County currently carries the Pfizer and Merck antiviral pills — a Publix on Military Trail in West Palm Beach.
The Florida Department of Health said they selected the following five Publix locations to offer the oral treatment:
- West Palm Beach at 2895 N. Military Trail
- Fort Lauderdale
- Port Charlotte
The state is receiving a limited supply of doses. Each treatment includes taking a pill twice a day for five days.
A spokeswoman for CVS said they have started to receive their “initial and limited” allocation of both the Pfizer and Merck pill.
“Currently we are able to dispense prescriptions for these therapies at select CVS Pharmacy locations in 11 states [including Florida], “CVS said in a written statement.
A Walgreens spokeswoman said Friday that supply is limited and “still fluctuating” in Florida and multiple other states.
Janie Gonzalez of Port St. Lucie is currently positive for COVID-19.
“I feel like someone is kicking me in my head, body aches, chills sweating, but you’re cold,” Gonzalez.
She said the pill would be beneficial for her right now.
“It definitely would be easier than driving far from Port St. Lucie to come and get [monoclonal antibody therapy treatments], “Gonzalez said.
She drove to West Palm Beach, nearly an hour, to receive the monoclonal treatments.
Julie McElandy drove two hours from Brevard County for treatment in West Palm Beach.
“I’m very vaccine reactive, so I’m not vaccinated,” McElandy said. “I’m grateful that we at least have the antibody treatments right now.”
Bush said once there’s enough supply of COVID-19 antiviral pills, treating the virus will be just like getting Tamiflu, which is prescribed when you get the flu.
“We’re almost there, vaccine, testing, antiviral. And if we get there, we have another endemic viral respiratory disease. We don’t have a pandemic,” Bush said.
K95 Mask Availability
This week, President Joe Biden announced that the federal government would be giving away 400 million N95 masks to Americans starting next week.
As part of the initiative, both CVS and Walgreens said Friday that N95 masks will be available free of charge in the coming weeks at their locations.
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