The Food and Drug Administration extended the use of the antiviral remdesivir last week for treatment of mild to moderate coronavirus. However, it's not available yet. Now, the scramble for treatment has intensified by the fact that these drugs need to be taken within the first few days of illness.
Critical care pulmonologist at Providence Cedars Sinai Medical Center Dr. Thomas Yadegar and his colleagues said they're experiencing shortages of these crucial treatments.
"We have these therapies that we know are effective at keeping patients out of the hospitals, out of our ERs and out of the ICUs, and unfortunately, we are not able to find them," he said.
The scramble for treatments came as the FDA pulled emergency use authorization for monoclonal antibody treatments by Regeneron and Eli Lilly. The treatments used to treat mild cases were found to be ineffective against the omicron variant, and the only working monoclonal therapy, Sotrovimab, is also in short supply.
"If there's an ER or an infusion center that has monoclonal antibodies, it's always the same problem, which is you can't find them," said Yadegar.
The same goes for Pfizer's Paxlovid and Merck's Molnuvirapir.
Eyewitness News reached out to major pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens and RiteAid to find out why it's so hard to get them.
All three companies said they've only received limited supplies and what they get is sent to stores in areas federally designated as high-risk and socially-vulnerable.
In a statement, Walgreens said "As part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership (FRPP) Oral Antiviral Program, Walgreens is dispensing Paxlovid and Molnupiravir to eligible individuals in select Walgreens locations including in California. 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 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.
Patients are encouraged to use Walgreens convenient drive-thru and same day prescription delivery services to pick up their prescription COVID-19 antiviral medications."
Meanwhile, CVS said, "We've started to receive our initial and limited allocated supply of Pfizer and Merck oral antiviral COVID-19 therapies as determined by the federal government, subject to each State's selection of CVS Pharmacy as a participating provider. Currently we're able to dispense prescriptions for these therapies at select CVS Pharmacy locations in 11 states, including California, that have chosen CVS Pharmacy as an access point for this medication and only once allocation is provided to CVS.
Health care providers who prescribe the medication have access to information provided by the federal government about participating pharmacies in their area that have allocated supply of the medications. When they prescribe this medication, they are able to let patients know which pharmacy to go to in order to pick up the prescription. At this time, not every pharmacy in the area may have a supply of this medication allocated to them for dispensing."
Below is a statement issued by RiteAid:
"We welcome accessible new treatments to help fight COVID-19 and will do our part to keep our communities healthy by dispensing these new anti-viral medications as approved and made available to retail pharmacies. At this time, based on their allocations from the federal government, local jurisdictions determine sites that will receive these medications, and jurisdictions share with providers who prescribe these medications which pharmacies have them. Additionally, prescribers have access to a federal site where they can locate pharmacies who have on-hand quantities of these medications. A limited number of Rite Aid pharmacies have received a small supply of these medications. Our pharmacists will dispense these medications in accordance with the respective Emergency Use Authorization issued by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). After being prescribed by their physician and fulfilled by our pharmacists, customers can pick up these prescription medications in-store via customer representative, via drive-thru locations or through our at-home delivery service."
You can find a list of dozens of federally-qualified health centers (FQHC) in underserved areas that receive regular allotments on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health website.
Eyewitness News called three of the listed locations on Tuesday and all said they had limited supplies.
Phyliss Lent of Tarzana was made aware of this option and was able to fill her prescription. The 84-year-old tested positive for COVID last week.
Her doctors said she was a good candidate for the antiviral pills from Pfizer and Merck, which were authorized in December, and had a tough time finding a pharmacy that carried them.
"I'm happy," she said. "It was difficult. It shouldn't be that difficult, but I got it."
The hope is that the supply lines will open up, but the best advice? If you test positive for COVID, connect with your physician early, especially if you're considered high-risk.
"It's too late if you go 7 to 10 days and beyond because by then these medications are not going to be effective," Yadegar said.