Opinion: It’s time to let pharmacists prescribe COVID-fighting pills like Paxlovid

Prevention measures against COVID-19 – masks, shutdowns, social distancing – are going out. As the summer and fall seasons begin, COVID transmission and infection rates appear to be rising again. Vaccines still play an important role, but if we ever hope to reduce COVID hospitalization and death rates to lower levels, we must accelerate access to therapies that neutralize the virus once we contract it.

As Dean of the USC School of Pharmacy, I see stocks of very powerful antiviral drugs building up on the shelves. Patients don’t get them because not enough prescriptions are written. The answer is to have pharmacists, along with doctors and other healthcare professionals, prescribe the COVID pills.

The FDA granted emergency use authorization for two oral drugs in December: Pfizer PFE’s Paxlovid,
and Lagevrio from Merck MRK,
Paxlovid’s clinical study showed an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalization and death, and is generally preferred over the Merck pill, which in some studies reduced the risk by only 30%. Pfizer also says new studies show Paxlovid is effective against the Omicron variant. Most people who take it are unlikely to experience any serious side effects.

Paxlovid used to be hard to find earlier in the year, but not anymore. Pfizer said it will produce 120 million courses until the end of the year. Supply and distribution is widespread, including most pharmacies in the country.

The complication arises when trying to get a prescription.

The FDA has restricted prescriptions to a limited number of authorized providers, including doctors, nurses, and physician assistants for advanced practices, and they’re being bombarded with requests. You must confirm that the person has had a positive COVID-19 test result high risk Reach severe stage, be symptomatic and not taking medications that may interact with Paxlovid.

All of these requirements are best met through an in-person appointment, although telemedicine visits can work in some cases. Either way, time is of the essence. Therapy must begin within five days of the onset of symptoms to prevent the virus from developing into a truly serious case.

Recognizing the time pressures that could arise, the government set up 2,200 test-to-treat sites where people with symptoms could be tested and given the drug immediately if the result was positive.

but 66,000 additional locations could do the same if the FDA allowed pharmacists to write Paxlovid prescriptions.

Pharmacists are already on the front lines of the fight against COVID. They’ve been testing since the pandemic began and have delivered over 80% of the COVID vaccines in the US. They know the medication history of their customers. They often help determine the risk of life-threatening conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and asthma attack, and initiate or adjust treatment accordingly. They have been entrusted with similar tasks in previous public health crises, such as: B. Independent initiation and delivery of influenza treatment, HIV prophylaxis, CDC-recommended vaccinations, and opioid overdose medication.

Health authorities in Quebec granted Paxlovid prescribing authority to pharmacists on April 1st. According to a news report, 513 prescriptions were filled in the two weeks leading up to the approval. In the first 18 days of April, more than 3,000 Paxlovid prescriptions were issued, two thirds of them by pharmacists.

US physician groups traditionally guard the prescribing authority. But COVID remains a national emergency. Pharmacists are the medication experts and in the best position to evaluate drug interactions which is an important step to dispensing these COVID pills.

If the FDA opens the door, state pharmacy boards would likely quickly follow with approvals. US pharmacists could then be trained and do something about COVID-19 diseases immediately. Getting the virus will never be comfortable, but if we can get our local pharmacists involved, we won’t have to be part of a new wave of hospitalizations and deaths this fall.

Vassilios Papadopoulos, DPharm, Ph.D., is Dean of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Southern California.

Now read: Pfizer says Paxlovid won’t help COVID-19 patients unless they’re at high risk

Plus: The FDA approves both infant mRNA vaccines Opinion: It’s time to let pharmacists prescribe COVID-fighting pills like Paxlovid

Brian Lowry

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