“We’ve had more than 1,000 pharmacy-based clinic sites register today, so that even exceeded our expectations for Day One of this program,” Dr. Tom Inglesby, senior adviser to the White House’s Covid-19 Response Team, told CNN on Monday.
The Covid-19 antiviral pills Paxlovid and molnupiravir are already available for free in the United States, but quick access can be challenging for some people.
“If you get Covid-19, the Pfizer pill reduces your chances of ending up in the hospital by 90%,” President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address last week. “I’ve ordered more pills than anyone in the world has. Pfizer is working overtime to get us a million pills this month and more than double that next month.”
Here’s what you need to know about getting the Covid-19 medicines that you can take at home through the test-to-treat program.
When will test-to-treat services begin?
Although the ordering of Covid-19 antiviral medications is now underway, the orders have to be delivered to sites before they can be prescribed. Patients are expected to be able to receive Covid-19 antivirals through the test-to-treat program at some sites later this week.
The medicines haven’t been delivered to the sites yet, but “they’re going to be making their way there,” Inglesby told CNN on Monday.
“The ordering process has launched today in pharmacy-based clinics around the country,” he said, adding that as orders for the antiviral medications come in, shipments will be sorted out within a day or so.
Where can I get test-to-treat services?
Certain pharmacies across the United States — including CVS, Walgreens and Walmart — have confirmed to CNN that some of their locations are preparing to participate in the test-to-treat program, such as Minute Clinic locations in CVS pharmacies.
“We’ve begun ordering COVID-19 antiviral medications directly through the Federal Government as part of the Test to Treat program,” CVS spokesperson Matt Blanchette wrote in an email Tuesday. “We’ll begin offering end-to-end access to these therapies in our nearly 1,200 MinuteClinic medical clinics, located inside select CVS Pharmacy locations, when the allocation arrives, which is expected to start as early as this week.”
Walgreens pharmacies have administered more than 26 million Covid-19 tests during the pandemic and more recently began dispensing Covid-19 antiviral pills, spokesperson Karen May wrote in an email last week.
On Tuesday, May added, “Through the test to treat program, patients will be able to receive oral COVID-19 antivirals in select Walgreens stores where we have provider partners that are able to assess patients and prescribe these therapies later this week.”
How can people find test-to-treat sites?
HHS announced Tuesday that a federal test-to-treat website where people can find nearby locations participating in the program is “in development.”
The website is anticipated to launch in mid-March.
Who can receive test-to-treat services?
The treatments work best when a person takes them within a few days of symptoms starting or testing positive — even if their symptoms are mild.
Only one positive Covid-19 test is needed for treatment, Inglesby said, and it does not have to be a PCR test: “Any positive test should be sufficient.”
Who will prescribe the treatments?
Pharmacists themselves will not be able to prescribe the oral antiviral pills. Rather, the test-to-treat sites have health care providers available who can assess and discuss relevant treatment options and prescribe the drugs, according to HHS.
“As the supply of antiviral medications for COVID-19 increases rapidly in the coming weeks and months, the AMA will continue to work to ensure that all patients, particularly historically marginalized groups, have safe and timely access to appropriate treatments.”
Why not prescribe treatments through the usual avenues?
The test-to-treat program “is critical to expanding access to these therapies by co-locating testing, test results and therapeutic prescriptions. It’s a really important step and one that we’re really excited about,” Dr. Cameron Webb, senior policy adviser for equity on the White House’s Covid-19 response team, told CNN on Monday.
Typically, a person who has been diagnosed with Covid-19 would be prescribed treatment through their primary care physician.
But one of the main goals of the test-to-treat program is to give more people more access to those treatments, as many might not have a primary care provider who can quickly test and treat them for Covid-19, Webb told CNN.
“One of the really important pieces of this initiative is it helps create for them a pathway to get access to these therapeutics, and to do so through an appropriate prescriber as per the FDA,” Webb said, adding that under the emergency use authorization of the treatments, prescribers can be physicians, nurse practitioners or physicians’ assistants.
“Of course, for folks who do have a primary care provider and they’re able to get in touch with them, by all means, absolutely reach out to your provider, the person who knows you really well,” Webb said. “When you center a program in equity, you realize that not everybody is in that situation.”