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Biden doubles availability of COVID therapeutic pills

WASHINGTON (AFP) – United States (US) President Joe Biden’s administration said yesterday it is doubling the number of outlets where at-risk Americans can obtain free COVID-19 therapeutic pills.

Oral therapeutics such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill are seen as an important new weapon in the struggle to knock out a virus that at its peak a year ago killed more than 3,000 people a day in the US alone and disrupted economic activity around the globe.

While sharply reduced in lethality, the latest Omicron variant continues to spread and the White House hopes the growing combination of vaccinations, natural immunity and therapeutics will help Americans finally turn the corner on the pandemic.

“One of the most effective available treatments is Pfizer’s oral antiviral pill, Paxlovid, which has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by about 90 per cent,” a senior government official told reporters.

With 20 million pill packs ordered for government purchase, they are now “in ample supply” and distribution will be ramped up from the current 20,000 locations to close to 40,000, the official said. The pills are available in pharmacies, community health centres, hospitals, and government medical facilities, including those run by Veterans Affairs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the medicine for use by people 12 and older who are at high risk after COVID infection.

The official said that so far, about half a million courses of antivirals had been used and that the rate is on the increase.

“I think in recent weeks, you know, I think through about a month ago, we were at around 22,000 courses, recorded as used in a week. And I think last week, we were over 55,000,” the official said.