Getting antiviral drugs to fend off a brewing case of COVID-19 could soon be as simple as stopping by the local drug store.
The “Test to Treat” program unveiled by the Biden administration this month is intended to get those who are at high risk of developing severe disease treated “quickly and easily” with the drugs, the US Department of Health and Human Services says.
People will be able to stop by a pharmacy-based clinic and get a free test and, if they qualify, get the pills immediately at the store for free. People who have tested positive at home can also drop in, and after seeing a health care provider, get the drugs, according to the HHS.
People will be able to get the pills “on the spot at no cost,” Biden said in his March 1 State of the Union address.
The program will dispense the oral antiviral drugs from Pfizer (Paxlovid) and Merck (molnupiravir), the HHS said. A website is expected to go online in coming days that will guide people to Test to Treat sites.
Some of the nation’s largest health care chains are participating, including CVS, officials said.
CVS spokeswoman Tara Burke said Monday in an e-mail, “We’ve started to receive our Test to Treat allocation of COVID oral antivirals from the Federal Government, allowing us to begin utilizing the Test to Treat model for CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic patients. All of our 1,200 MinuteClinic medical clinics are participating in the Test to Treat program.”
She did not have any specific information on the status of the program in Massachusetts.
The drugs are also being distributed to federally qualified community health centers and long-term care pharmacies, the HHS said.
A spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health said in an e-mail, “It has been indicated to DPH that in Massachusetts there will be 52 CVS Minute Clinics activated for Test to Treat, along with a number of long-term care pharmacies.”
People have already been able to get the drugs prescribed by their own doctors – and that will continue, the HHS said.
The American Medical Association raised concerns, after the administration announced the program, about “challenging prescribing decisions” being made by pharmacy clinic staff unfamiliar with their patients’ medical histories. But administration officials said one of the goals of the program was to give more access to people who may not have a primary care doctor to turn to. “Now they have a path,” Dr. Cameron Webb, senior adviser for equity on the White House coronavirus task force, told The Washington Post earlier this month.
Experts say it’s crucial that people at high risk take action quickly if they have COVID-19 because treatment must be started within the first few days to be effective.
“If you’re a high-risk individual, you want to make the diagnosis as quickly as possible,” Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital, told ABC News. “And then make contact with a health care provider.”
The “Test to Treat” program was part of the Biden administration’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, which it announced earlier this month.
Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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