The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday it authorized state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Pfizer's COVID-19 pill Paxlovid to eligible patients, in a bid to improve access to the treatment.
Use of the pill, authorized to treat newly infected, at-risk people to prevent severe illness, has jumped in recent weeks as infections rise.
"Since Paxlovid must be taken within five days after symptoms begin, authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid could expand access to timely treatment for some patients," Patrizia Cavazzoni, director for the FDA's Center for
Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.
The agency said patients who have tested positive for COVID-19 should bring their health records for the pharmacists to review for kidney and liver problems.
The agency said that pharmacists should refer the patients to a health care professional licensed to prescribe drugs if there is not sufficient information to assess kidney or liver function, or if modifications are needed because of a potential drug interaction.
The patients should also provide a list of medicines they are currently taking so their pharmacist can screen for drugs that could react with Paxlovid, the FDA said.
A two-drug treatment taken for five days shortly after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, Paxlovid cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 88% in non-hospitalized, high-risk adult patients in Pfizer's clinical trial, which did not include vaccinated people.
It has been authorized for use and available for free in the United States since December, but fewer than half of the nearly 4 million courses distributed to pharmacies by the U.S. government so far have been administered.
According to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people in socially and economically disadvantaged regions are about half as likely to receive antiviral COVID-19 pills like Paxlovid than those in wealthier ZIP codes.