President Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday announced that the government is expanding access to the COVID-19 antiviral drug from Pfizer, which has shown in studies to be highly effective in preventing severe illness and death.

The White House said the government will buy enough of the drug, Pfizer’s Paxlovid, to cover 20 million people in the United States for the next few months.

The administration also said that it’s advising doctors to freely prescribe the drug to at-risk patients and authorizing distribution directly to pharmacies. The moves are expected to make Paxlovid available at an extra 10,000 locations nationwide by next week.

Paxlovid was authorized by federal regulators in December to treat people who have the coronavirus.

Pfizer said in a study last year that the drug can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by almost 90% when it’s taken with nirmatrelvir and ritonavir over a five-day period.

Part of the government’s new strategy is to raise awareness about the national supply of Paxlovid and reassure doctors that there are plenty of the tablets to go around.

“The administration has worked with Pfizer to accelerate the delivery of these pills, and they are now in ample supply,” the White House said in a statement. “The president’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan lays out a roadmap for ensuring that these pills, along with other treatments, are available for any American who needs one.”

President Biden’s administration on Tuesday assured doctors that there is an ample supply of Pfizer’s Paxlovid and that they should not hesitate to prescribe the antiviral drug. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI

The White House said Tuesday that it’s working with pharmacies, long-term care facilities, community health centers and other settings to create more than 2,200 “test-to-treat” sites. The use of oral COVID-19 antivirals has more than doubled over the past several weeks as a result of the test-to-treat locations, it added.

Paying for more of the drug once the 20 million new doses are exhausted is up to Congress, the administration said.

“These actions will help strengthen and further build the infrastructure to ensure that lifesaving treatments for COVID-19 are quickly distributed around the country, widely available, and easy to access,” the White House added.

“At the same time, ensuring that this remains the case — and securing more and even better treatments — will require additional funding from Congress.”

After efforts to pass additional COVID-19 funding stalled earlier this year, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said that a bipartisan agreement was reached to provide $10 billion in new response funds. If approved, half of the money would go toward therapeutics and the rest toward vaccinations and testing capacity.

Paxlovid is one of two antiviral COVID-19 drug treatments authorized for use in the United States. The other, Merck’s molnupiravir, has also showed in studies to be effective in treating the virus — but not as effective as Paxlovid.

There are now ample supplies of Paxlovid, administration officials said, due mainly to declining cases nationwide and increased manufacturing capacity at Pfizer.

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