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Pharmacists struggling to prescribe COVID antiviral pills

The rollout for COVID antiviral pills has been slow and pharmacists say they have problems prescribing the pills to patients.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The White House announced a push to treat more COVID patients with antiviral pills on Tuesday. 

It's a rollout that's been slow. The medication won authorization in December 2021, so now the White House hopes to speed it up by making more pills available. 

But pharmacists in Arkansas said it's still not enough. 

Daniel Cate with Marketplace Pharmacy in Little Rock said inventory isn't the problem at all. The issue is prescribing the pills to the patients and this new initiative doesn't solve that problem.

"It'll remove one barrier, absolutely, having more places that can dispense the medication will be helpful, but it doesn't really solve the whole problem," he said.

Cate described it as a "small part of a much bigger battle."

While the government buying 20 million more doses of Pfizer's antiviral pill sounds good on paper, Cate said there's still a larger issue at hand.

"That's great that supply is at a point where we can do that. Part of the reason supplies is at a point where we can do that is because we haven't been able to dispense very much," he said.

Many pharmacies in Arkansas, including Cate's, have plenty of pills on shelves, but since the FDA blocked pharmacists ability to prescribe the medication, the pills aren't leaving the store.

"Due in part to how complicated it is. We've had several prescriptions and actually dispense none of the medication, for various reasons," he said.

Part of the White House's new plan is creating more test-to-treat locations, where someone could get tested for COVID and get the treatment all at one location.

Nicki Hilliard, with the Arkansas Pharmacist Association, said that still doesn't really work for our state.

"Those are usually in some of the chain pharmacies that have a medical clinic associated with them, which we just really don't have that much access in Arkansas," she said.

The biggest hurdle according to Hilliard is prescribing pills in the timeframe where the medication is most successful.

"Access is not a problem. We have those available right now. They're sitting on shelves ready, ready for whoever needs them," she said.

While getting the meds to patients is vital, it all comes down to saving more lives.

"We've lost almost a million Americans and we need to make sure that we don't lose any more because we have good treatments," she said.

For both brands of antiviral pills, patients have to start taking them within five days of their first COVID symptom.