How to get the COVID-19 antiviral drug

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Experts say there are plenty of Paxlovid supplies in pharmacies. Fabian Sommer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images
  • The antiviral drug Paxlovid has been shown to be effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19.
  • However, there is a large stock of the drug on pharmacy shelves as consumers are unaware of its availability.
  • Currently, the drug can only be prescribed to people with certain medical conditions.
  • Experts say people who test positive for COVID-19 and are a candidate for Paxlovid should ask their doctor to prescribe it.

Paxlovid is a powerful antiviral drug that is almost 90 percent effective in preventing severe COVID-19 and a linchpin of President Joe Biden “Test for Treatment” Program aimed at quickly detecting and treating COVID-19 before it becomes life-threatening.

However, many pharmacies report large quantities of the drug are on the shelves and doctors are slow to prescribe it.

This may be partly because Paxlovid’s initial shipments were limited, only shipping to the areas of the country hardest hit by COVID-19. Production has ramped up, but many consumers are unaware that the drug is available.

“At this point, most reports suggest supply is outstripping demand,” he said dr Fady YoussefPulmonologist, internist and critical care specialist at MemorialCare Long Beach Medical Center in California.

But it can’t stop there.

“We need to prepare for the upcoming fall and winter with an expected surge in COVID cases,” Youssef told Healthline.

Paxlovid’s origins date back to 2003, when the original strain of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) broke out.

The research that began then eventually stalled, but with the advent of COVID-19, Pfizer ramped up testing based on the work done almost two decades earlier.

The three-pill regimen contains two different drugs: nirmatrelvir, which disrupts the novel coronavirus’s ability to replicate; and ritonavir, which slows how quickly the body processes the drug.

The three pills are taken twice a day during a 5-day regimen.

“Nirmatrelvir works by inhibiting the protease enzyme in the COVID virus, which speeds up the replication of the virus in the body,” dr David Cutler, a primary care physician at Providence Saint John Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told Healthline. “By inhibiting this enzyme, it stops the progression of the disease in its tracks. The second drug inhibits the liver system responsible for breaking down and excreting nirmatrelvir. Therefore, the second drug, ritonavir, prolongs the ability of the first drug, nirmatrelvir, to work in the body to fight infection.”

The known side effects of Paxlovid are mild, with the most common being a feeling of bitterness or a metallic taste in the mouth while taking the drug.

Other symptoms include diarrhea, high blood pressure and muscle pain.

However, adverse drug interactions are more common.

“Since ritonavir is designed to inhibit the metabolism of nirmatrelvir, it also inhibits the metabolism of many other drugs,” Cutler explained. “Those other drugs that the patient is taking can accumulate in the body to potentially unsafe levels. Patients are generally advised to stop taking other conflicting medications while using Paxlovid.”

Contraindicated drugs These include anticancer drugs, certain antipsychotics and analgesics, certain tranquilizers, and even herbal remedies like St. John’s wort.

At this time, Paxlovid cannot be prescribed to everyone.

Only the ones with certain diseases who put them at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 are currently receiving the drug.

However, these conditions are relatively broad and include asthma, diabetes, overweight and obesity.

Experts say if you test positive for COVID-19, ask your doctor about prescribing Paxlovid as soon as possible.

“Like most antiviral drugs, they are most effective when taken early in the course of the disease,” Youssef said.

Consumers can also go online to reach the government Test-to-Treat databasewhich helps you to find pharmacies that can test and prescribe antivirals on site.

The government has bought 20 million doses of the drug and they should be free for the consumer.

The database also shows which pharmacies stock different antiviral drugs, making it easier to order your prescription after the doctor has filled one out.

“Paxlovid is now available in many pharmacies and is being federally funded during the public health crisis,” Cutler said. “With a prescription from your doctor, Paxlovid is now fairly readily available.”

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