COVID-19 treatments are in short supply statewide. Here's what you need to know
Treatments are only available for patients at high risk for developing severe COVID-19. Select pharmacies and health facilities have supplies.
COVID-19 treatments are in short supply now that the FDA no longer allows the use of monoclonal antibodies made by Regeneron and Eli Lilly. Data suggests those drugs aren’t effective against the omicron variant.
Here’s a breakdown of what is available to patients in the state and why most people shouldn't expect to access the medicine:
Hospitals like Sarasota Memorial and Tampa General are offering the only monoclonal antibody treatment that does appear to work against omicron called sotrovimab, produced by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. But supplies are very limited.
The federal government shipped the state 3,216 doses of the treatment for the week beginning Jan. 24.
Dr. Peggy Duggan, Tampa General's chief medical officer, said staff members are prioritizing people with compromised immune systems, like cancer and transplant patients.
“And then, of course, as supply increases we may liberalize that use, but I do think we're getting the drug that we have to the people who need it most and that's been really important,” she said.
Sarasota Memorial adds that pregnant people are also considered priorities for sotrovimab.
“We recognize that many patients in our community are at risk for COVID-19 and would benefit from this therapy, however, due to high demand and limited supply, we cannot make direct patient appointments at this time,” SMH spokesperson Kim Savage wrote in an email. “Instead, we are working directly with physicians on our medical staff to prioritize those most at risk first.”
The health system says patients who believe they could be eligible should contact their local physician to initiate the screening process. Patients can contact Sarasota Memorial’s monoclonal antibody hotline at 941-262-0135 for more information.
Patients can find referral forms for Tampa General on the hospital’s monoclonal antibody webpage or call 813-844-4715.
Other hospitals that may have supplies of monoclonal antibody treatments can be found on the Florida Department of Health’s COVID-19 treatment locator.
Another effective treatment providers say is more widely available but still limited to high-risk patients with mild-to-moderate illness is remdesivir. The FDA recently expanded its authorization of the drug, also called Veklury, to allow for outpatient use in addition to inpatient.
But Duggan said it involves patients coming to the hospital three days in a row for intravenous infusions.
“It’s just a lot harder for patients to make that work and for us to have the bandwidth to do that,” she said. “That said, we’ve been really successful with that.”
Data suggests the drug helps keep patients out of the hospital when administered soon after an infection diagnosis.
Contact your local physician or hospital to see if you are eligible for remdesivir.
The FDA has approved two antiviral pills to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19: Paxlovid, produced by Pfizer, and Molnupiravir, produced by Merck.
Select pharmacies around the state have supplies of these drugs. Patients need to have prescriptions from their doctors to obtain the drugs.
“COVID-19 oral antiviral inventory is limited and store locations are prioritized based on rapid and drive-thru testing capabilities, high levels of COVID-19 within the community, vaccination rates and accessibility for high risk, socially vulnerable populations,” Walgreens spokesperson wrote Alexandra Brown in an email.
“Walgreens has shared with primary care providers participating store locations, as well as a provider-only toll-free number and HHS website to locate inventory in their area.”
Brown adds patients are encouraged to use drive-thru and same-day prescription delivery services to reduce the risk of infecting staff and other customers.
Paxlovid, which consists of two medicines (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir), is authorized for patients ages 12 and older who have mild to moderate COVID-19 but are at high risk for severe illness.
Molnupiravir is for patients 18 and older in similar situations, but who are also unable to access or use other COVID treatment options. The FDA does not recommend pregnant people use it.
Both treatments need to be administered within five days of developing symptoms.
Given the limited supply of these COVID-19 treatments, it is likely that most people who test positive in Florida will not be able to access them. But that doesn't mean everyone else should panic.
The omicron variant, the dominant strain in Florida, appears to cause less severe illness in most people.
Duggan with Tampa General Hospital said that is especially true for people who are vaccinated and have received booster shots.
"If you're someone who has a fully-functioning immune system, you're vaccinated and have a booster, you're very protected from omicron, and honestly our sick patients in the hospital who are admitted for omicron, because of omicron, are all patients who are unvaccinated," she said.
Duggan is urging all those who have yet to receive a COVID-19 vaccine to do so.
For those who have already tested positive, she said the most important thing they can do is talk with a health care provider to see what their options are for treatment and monitoring symptoms.
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