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First shipment of oral antiviral COVID treatments arrive in Wisconsin, supply very limited

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Around two weeks after two COVID oral antiviral treatments were authorized, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services has received its first allotment, with around 5,300 treatments total to be distributed across the state Friday.

The initial supply of molnupiravir and Paxlovid is limited nationwide, and guidance from the National Institutes of Health instructs providers to prioritize the prescriptions for those at highest risk of severe COVID illness and hospitalization.

“While these new antiviral pills may help treat COVID-19, it’s important to remember these drugs are not a substitution for protecting yourself by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public places,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake.

“We anticipate high demand for these medications, and we know that the initial supply we are receiving will be extremely limited. Please be patient as providers will prioritize people at highest risk for developing serious illness from the virus. We are committed to distributing these pills equitably across the state, and access will increase as Wisconsin receives more allocations from the federal government.”

DHS’s shipment for the week includes 940 courses of Paxlovid and 4,320 of molnupiravir.

Paxlovid, from Pfizer, is partnered with a booster pill and works by blocking the protease so new viral particles can’t be produced. Protease inhibitors have also been used to treat HIV. Paxlovid will be available to qualified patients who are 12 and older, weigh at least 88 pounds and are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19 infection, including hospitalization and death. The treatment must be prescribed and taken within five days of symptoms. Paxlovid’s treatment course includes taking two pills and a booster pill twice a day for five days.

Molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, hyper-mutates the virus, producing errors halting its ability to reproduce and spread. Molnupiravir’s regimine is four pills twice a day for five days, and must be started within five days of symptoms onset. Molnupiravir is reserved for those 18 and older who are not pregnant or breastfeeding, as birth defects or reduced fetal body weight are possible.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19 on Monday, Dec. 27, 2021.

“As our hospitals approach capacity and the Omicron variant spreads rapidly in Wisconsin, antiviral pills will help prevent severe disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Meiman, a Chief Medical Officer at DHS. “Since these medications are most effective early in the course of the virus, it is urgent that people at risk for severe COVID-19 get tested at the first sign of illness and seek medical care so their provider can determine if they should receive these pills.”

Emily Pyrek can be reached at emily.pyrek@lee.net.

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