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The president launched a nationwide “Test to Treat” Initiative on March 8 that seeks to make treating COVID-19 simple: You get tested at a pharmacy-based clinic. If you’re positive and at high risk, you can get antiviral pills on the spot, which can cut the chance of developing severe disease by some 85%.

“It’s a very exciting time,” said Dr. Annie Luetkemeyer, professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, in a recent USC webinar.

According to the story in DailyNews, all told, more than 2,300 pharmacies, hospitals and medical providers are distributing the drugs in California. CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid stores represent more than half of the stocked sites, with Kaiser Permanente, medical groups, hospitals, grocery chains and smaller pharmacies comprising much of the rest.

“The therapeutics are very different now than they were a year ago,” said Dr. George Rutherford, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at UC San Francisco. They can be game-changers for people who can’t get vaccinated or who haven’t had a robust immune response after vaccination.

Test and treat can be helpful if it can be implemented well, said Dr. Elizabeth Hudson, regional chief of infectious diseases at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, which has 4.8 million members in Southern California.

What are these drugs?

Antivirals prevent viruses from making copies of themselves, while monoclonal antibodies bind to virus and help the body get rid of it. Here’s a few of the treatment options:

  • Pfizer’s Paxlovid is the new star in the antiviral treatment arsenal. It’s a series of pills, taken orally. They contain nirmatrelvir, which stops the virus from replicating, and ritonavir, which helps the main drug stay in the body longer, at higher concentrations. It’s three tablets taken together, twice daily, for five days, for a total of 30 tablets. Paxlovid significantly reduced the proportion of people with COVID-19-related hospitalization or death from any cause by 88% compared to placebo, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said when it issued an emergency use authorization in December.
  • Also new is Merck’s molnupiravir, an antiviral that received emergency use authorization in December as well. It works by introducing errors into the virus’ genetic code, which prevents the virus from replicating. It’s only for patients 18 and older, as molnupiravir can affect bone and cartilage growth, the FDA said. It’s a course of four capsules taken orally every 12 hours for five days, for a total of 40 capsules.
  • Veklury, the antiviral remdesivir, has been available since 2020 and isn’t part of the federal/state effort; clinics can order it directly. The drug must be delivered intravenously.
  • Monoclonal antibodies must be given intravenously or through injection as well, within about 10 days after symptoms. Sotrovimab is effective against omicron and part of the federal effort; Evusheld is for those who can’t get COVID-19 vaccines for medical reasons, or who didn’t have robust immune responses to vaccination.

Candidates for these treatments are those at high risk for developing serious disease, including folks who are older, overweight, pregnant, diabetic or have heart issues and other underlying health problems.

People should act as quickly as possible, contacting their doctors or finding a Test to Treat site at a local CVS or Walgreens, officials said.

“Although supplies remain limited, more residents are receiving these treatments through pharmacies, partners, and providers,” L.A. County’s COVID-19 update said. “To date, Public Health has distributed 20,960 doses of Paxlovid, 39,764 doses of Molnupiravir, and 13,584 doses of Evusheld, with 73% of Paxlovid doses, 82% of Molnupiravir doses and 66% of Evusheld allocated to residents in the most under-resourced communities.”