Pharmacists ask White House to expand 'Test To Treat' initiative for COVID-19 treatments

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Since last week, a new initiative that's supposed to make it easier to get COVID-19 treatments has been rolling out at pharmacy-based clinics.

High-risk patients with COVID-19 symptoms were already able to get treatments like Paxlovid and Molnupiravir with a doctor's prescription. Now, those treatments are expanding to some pharmacies in a new push the White House calls "Test To Treat."

But the treatments aren't available at every pharmacy. Certain medical personnel must be on-site to administer the treatments.

"The public may be a little confused when they hear, 'Go to a pharmacy,' when actuality they need to find a pharmacy that has a walk-in clinic associated with it," said Michael Ganio with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. "Not every pharmacy has one of these clinics, and they have to find a pharmacy that has a nurse practitioner or a physician's assistant associated with that clinic."

Pharmacists are pushing to prescribe the pills themselves so more people can have access. This week, a group of pharmacy organizations sent a letter to President Joe Biden asking for the change.

"There's language within the authorization documents for the antivirals that specifically prohibits pharmacists from prescribing, and some of the concerns are around drug interactions, which there's no health care professional out there that has better training to manage these drug interactions," Ganio said.

Ganio says pharmacists were able to prescribe certain COVID-19 therapeutics this fall, but that changed when the FDA granted the therapies emergency use authorization. The American Medical Association has raised concerns about the "Test To Treat" initiative, saying a pharmacy-based clinic might not know a patients' full medical history like a doctor would.

Even with coronavirus cases dropping, there will be a continued need for COVID-19 treatments. Antiviral medications will likely continue to be effective unless there are drastic mutations in how the virus functions.

"The timeliness of getting these treatments to patients is critical, so if you think about when you need to call a physician's office to talk to them about getting an appointment or getting a test on, it usually takes a few days or a few weeks, even," Ganio said.

To find locations that are part of the "Test To Treat" initiative, look up a pharmacy's website first to see if they have on-site health care services.