Biden to docs: Prescribe more COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid

The White House is making a concerted push to get more doctors to prescribe Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid, noting that the drug is now much more widely available than when it was approved last December.

The Biden administration announced Wednesday it is releasing toolkits and resources to help doctors determine when it is appropriate to prescribe the antiviral treatment. It comes as the administration is also hoping to get doctors to stop prescribing steroids for mild to moderate COVID-19. 

"In the beginning, when Paxlovid first became available, the word on the street was these things were not widely available and should restrict [prescriptions] to the highest risk patients," said Ashish Jha, the White House's COVID-19 response coordinator, during a press briefing Tuesday. "Too many physicians still have that mindset."

Paxlovid is given at least five days after symptoms set in from a COVID-19 infection and is intended to prevent hospitalization. Jha said only people with high risk of developing complications from COVID-19 infection should get the drug. 

The White House also wants electronic health record companies to add information about the oral antivirals into health records’ interfaces.

“This would make it easier to prompt doctors with information about treatments and locations when interacting with a patient—helping to better integrate the prescription of oral antivirals to patients that need them into doctors’ everyday practice,” the White House said. 

The administration is also creating additional Test-to-Treat locations that offer both testing and the antivirals in one stop and expanding supplies of the drug.

“These sites will launch in select communities in the coming weeks and, as more data comes in, the administration will determine how federally supported sites can best be expanded and scaled if needed during any potential future surge in cases,” the White House said. 

As part of the push to get more prescriptions, the White House expects oral antivirals will be available in more than 30,000 locations and hopes to increase that number to 40,000. 

The White House’s effort comes as worldwide demand for the drug has slumped, according to an analysis from Reuters. Part of the reason is patients don’t believe they need the drug or don't think they are eligible for it since the omicron variant is not as severe as other strains, the Reuters report said.

The federal government is trying to steer physicians away from products that aren’t as effective as the oral antivirals. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a notice Monday to advise against using steroids and antibiotics to treat mild or moderate COVID-19 in patients that don’t require supplemental oxygen.

Because antivirals are more readily available, the need for such corticosteroids has waned, and the products can “cause harm and provide no demonstrated benefit in patients with COVID-19 with no supplemental oxygen requirement or bacterial coinfection,” the CDC notice said.

Jha said Congress needs to also step up to ensure continued access to antivirals. A $10 billion relief package that includes new money for antiviral advance purchases has stalled in the Senate due to disagreements about immigration policy.

"Treatments like these, vaccines we have developed, these are the key essential tools that we are going to need to get through this pandemic," Jha said. "All of this requires funding from Congress."