WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) – The White House on Thursday announced further steps to make antiviral treatment Paxlovid more accessible across the United States as it projects that COVID-19 infections will continue to spread throughout the summer travel season.
The nation’s first federally-backed test-to-treat site is opening Thursday in Rhode Island, giving patients immediate access to the drug after they test positive. More federally-backed sites are set to open in the coming weeks in Massachusetts and New York City, both hit by a significant increase in infections.
Next week, the US will send authorized federal prescribers to several testing sites operated by Minnesota, which will convert them into test-to-treat locations. Federal regulators have also sent clear guidance to help physicians determine how to manage paxlovid’s interactions with other drugs, to help physicians find ways to get the life-saving drug to more patients. .
Virus deaths have remained largely stagnant over the past eight weeks, despite a nationwide jump in COVID-19 cases, as vaccine booster shots and widely accessible treatments have helped reduce infection and mortality rates.
Confirmed infections in the US have quadrupled since late March, from about 25,000 a day to now more than 105,000 a day. But there has been a steady decline in infection deaths for three to four weeks during the coronavirus pandemic and is now less than 300 per day.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha said that this is the first time during the pandemic that the two are not trending together. He called it a significant development in helping Americans return to normal life.
“What is remarkable in the latest increase in infections is how stable the serious illness, and especially the deaths, is for eight weeks into this,” he said. “COVID is no longer the killer it was even a year ago.”
Jha said given the widespread use of rapid at-home testing, the results of which often do not go to public health officials, the true number of daily infections is likely to be 200,000 or more – double the reported rate – which He said that only makes the mortality plateau more significant.
He credited vaccines for the highly effective treatment Paxlovid, but increased prescriptions more than fourfold in the past six weeks.
Jha said that around 25,000 to 30,000 courses of PaxLovid are being scheduled daily. When administered within five days after symptoms appear, the drug has been proven to reduce hospitalization and death by approximately 90% in patients prone to severe disease.
Due to changes in the way Paxlovid is allocated to states, the number of pharmacies available has doubled in the past month to nearly 40,000.
“We are now at a point where I believe that basically most of the COVID deaths are preventable, the deaths that are happening are mostly unnecessary, and we have to ensure that There are lots of tools to make sure people don’t die from the disease, Jha told the Associated Press on Wednesday.
As the summer months draw to a close, Jha said the “number one” thing people need to do is “go and promote” — and about getting PaxLovid if they have a successful infection. Your doctor should be consulted. He said the equipment available would allow gatherings of all sizes to happen more safely – if people use them.
“In a country where the boosting rate is very low, where infections are starting to spread more, I am deeply concerned that we are going to see, unfortunately, we may see more severe disease,” he said.
“Vaccination and promotion is a big part of making sure these types of activities are safe enough,” he said. “And then, of course, we want to make Paxlovid widely available across the country, so that even if you do eventually get a successful infection, you’re still protected from serious illness.”
The US has ordered 20 million courses of Paxlovid from drugmaker Pfizer, and if the drug continues to be widely used, the country risks being pulled out this winter. The White House has been pressing Congress for additional money for months to buy more PaxLovid and other treatments, as well as additional boosters.
While the administration has begun planning for a potential need to ration the federal supply of vaccines if Congress doesn’t act, Jha said that right now his message to prescribers is that they shouldn’t worry about supplies.
“I believe we should use as much as is necessary to protect Americans,” Jha said.