COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dozens of Ohio hospitals have received allocations of newly authorized oral antiviral pills to treat COVID-19, but drug availability is limited.
What do you want to know
- First Ohio patients completed oral antiviral therapies for COVID-19
- Drug supply remains limited, but will increase in the coming weeks
- Some hospitals started giving the pills to patients immediately last week
Chillicothe-based Adena Health System began distributing Pfizer’s Paxlovid drug to patients last Thursday, the same day it received its first treatments. The healthcare system also received Molnupiravir from Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics earlier this week.
Fred Yingling, the health system’s pharmacy manager, said they had received 160 courses of oral pills on Friday and officials expected more delivery shortly.
“It’s definitely accelerated here this week for the past few days, and it’s going really well,” Yingling said. “We have just passed our first patients within the first five days of treatment.”
Ohio has been assigned about 25,000 oral treatments from Pfizer and Merck, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
A federal database shows that 32 hospitals and facilities across Ohio’s health system received a supply of oral pills, along with one health center.
The pills received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in late December. They are prescribed to high-risk patients at the beginning of the disease course. The diets involve taking 30 or 40 pills for five days.
Sandusky’s Firelands Regional Medical Center received a “small amount” of both drugs, officials said.
“Antiviral drugs will be distributed through our retail pharmacy as well as limited inpatient use,” a spokesperson said. “We don’t know when we will receive more, or the expected amount.”
Dr. Wayne Bell of Wood County Hospital told reporters this week that the hospital had received 100 courses of Molnupiravir, which he made available for outpatient use. Bell said it is currently very difficult to obtain the treatments due to lack of supply nationwide.
Merck’s pill treatment has been shipped in larger quantities than the Pfizer drug, which accounts for only about 20% of Ohio’s allocation to date, according to HHS.
Due to the spread of the omicron variant, some health systems, including Adena Health, have closed monoclonal antibody clinics in recent weeks. On Jan. 3, Yingling said they closed their clinic because omicron appeared to be dominant and they had no supply of the monoclonal drug that remains effective against the new variant, sotrovimab.
Given the lack of treatment options for high-risk patients who test positive, the arrival of oral pills came at the right time, Yingling said. While it’s too early to assess impacts on patient outcomes with the virus, Adena Health officials are encouraged that none of their initial patients reported adverse events.
Yingling said Adena Health is eager to get more Pfizer treatment because studies have shown greater efficacy.
Pfizer reported that its pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by almost 90% in high-risk adults who had early symptoms of COVID-19, while Merck’s drug reportedly reduced the risk of hospitalization by 30% and of death in high-risk patients in a clinical trial. .
The Biden administration has said it is working to provide vendors with additional courses of treatments, but said it takes time to manufacture them due to complex chemistry.
Patients who test positive and are at high risk for serious illness can contact a physician or urgent care physician to inquire about obtaining a prescription, Yingling said. Pregnant women are not recommended to take Molnupiravir, and the pills should not be taken in combination with certain other drugs which may cause negative interactions.
Eligible patients include the elderly, immunocompromised people and certain people with medical conditions. Unvaccinated patients are at higher risk for COVID-19 and therefore may have a greater need for medication, Yingling said.
Earlier in the week, the federal database showed that about 20 Ohio long-term care facility pharmacies received drug supplies. But those locations weren’t listed later that week.
Ohio Department of Health spokeswoman Michelle Fong said pharmacies in long-term care facilities will receive allocations for oral therapeutics. The federal dashboard will not show these pharmacies in the future because these pharmacies dispense the drugs to the long-term care facilities they partner with, so they are not a resource for the general public.
“There is a limited supply of these new oral therapeutic treatments allocated to Ohio by the federal government. Due to the limited supply, the state is using existing providers of monoclonal antibody treatments to initially distribute the drug. As supply becomes more readily available, the state will expand distribution to other vendors,” Fong said. “The first shipments have begun to arrive and are being sent directly from the manufacturer/distributor to antibody treatment vendors monoclonal, which are mainly hospitals and healthcare systems.”