South-central receives more COVID-19 drugs that doctor calls part of ‘repair’ to normalcy

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Doctors are praising recent COVID-19 antiviral pills on the market. Now the Mid-South is about to get more of these pills.

The Tennessee Department of Health said it was continuing to increase twice-weekly shipments of the two pills with FDA emergency use authorization, Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir.

“I’m a big fan of these drugs,” said Baptist infectious disease specialist Dr. Steve Threlkeld. “I think they are what we need to cross the finish line.”

The EUA allows doctors to prescribe the pills only to high-risk COVID-19 positive patients. Threlkeld said that unlike monoclonal antibodies, the pills can have dangerous interactions with certain medications.

“You need to know what your patient is taking before you run out and give them this drug,” Dr. Threlkeld said. “If you can do that, we’ve found them quite well tolerated.”

More units of drugs mean more access. In Tennessee, the state health department provided the drugs to only one pharmacy chain, Walmart, due to a limited supply.

Just last week, Shelby County officials said the Pfizer pill was in short supply. Memphis COO Doug McGowen called the bi-weekly allocations a “net.”

Now, all Tennessee pharmacies can begin requesting doses from allocations. TDH said pharmacies can request doses through the State REDCap survey

Tennessee received more than 8,200 of the two drugs combined in its last allocations, Mississippi and Arkansas received just over 3,600.

The next allocation will take place next week. The Tennessee Department of Health said it did not know the doses allocated to him in advance.

Pfizer’s pill called Paxlovid has been shown to be nearly 90% effective in preventing serious illness from COVID-19. The Merk pill has an effectiveness rate of 30%.

“What we have in our hands right now would be the solution to the lifestyle issues we’ve been having to get us back to a more normal situation,” Dr Threlkeld said.

Threlkeld said the pills are only as good as the amount of testing we have. According to the EUA, you must have a positive COVID-19 test before you are prescribed the drug. A lack of testing can cause a patient to miss the window where the antiviral will be effective.

It is recommended to take the pills for mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 within the first few days of infection.

“This benefit increase is something we’ve been anticipating for weeks,” Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey, MD, MBA, FAAP said Tuesday in a press release. “Our goal has always been to increase access to these treatments by integrating more pharmacies to maximize patient access. We have seen a steady increase in state allocations and know that many pharmacies and providers are eager to offer this treatment to help mitigate the progression of COVID-19 disease for those at risk for a serious outcome.

Action News 5 requested an interview with Dr. Piercey on Wednesday but she was unavailable.

The Tennessee Department of Health will update its pharmacy list with the pills every Friday.

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