(NewsNation) — Pharmacists can now prescribe the leading COVID-19 pill directly to patients under a new U.S. policy announced Wednesday.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration revised the Emergency Use Authorization for Paxlovid, allowing state-licensed pharmacists to screen patients to see if they are eligible for Paxlovid and then prescribe the medication.
“The FDA recognizes the important role pharmacists have played and continue to play in combatting this pandemic,” FDA drug center director Patrizia Cavazzoni said in a statement.
Paxlovid is a Pfizer antiviral drug and was the first pill authorized by U.S. health regulators against COVID-19 for ages 12 and up.
“This is for people who are specifically at high risk for complications of the virus,” Dr. David K. Zich with Northwestern Medicine told NewsNation.
Paxlovid has been shown to curb the worst effects of COVID-19. Previously, only physicians could prescribe the drug.
“Since Paxlovid must be taken within five days after symptoms begin, authorizing state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid could expand access to timely treatment for some patients who are eligible to receive this drug for the treatment of COVID-19,” Cavazzoni said.
Biden administration officials have been working for months to increase access to Paxlovid, opening thousands of sites where patients who test positive can fill a prescription.
The FDA change will make thousands of additional pharmacies eligible to quickly prescribe and dispense the pill, which must be used early to be effective.
The FDA maintains that patients testing positive for COVID-19 should first consider seeking care from their regular health care provider.
While the policy change allows state-licensed pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid, there are certain limitations.
Community pharmacies not already participating as a test-to-treat site can decide if or how they will offer this service to patients.
Access to the drug could be limited by paperwork requirements. Patients are expected to bring their recent health records — including blood tests — and a list of their current medications so pharmacists can check for health conditions and medications that can negatively interact with Paxlovid.
As an alternative, pharmacists can consult with the patient’s doctor.
Paxlovid is intended for people with COVID-19 who are more likely to become seriously ill. That includes older people and those with other health issues like heart disease, obesity, cancer or diabetes that make them more vulnerable.
It isn’t recommended for patients with severe kidney or liver problems. A course of treatment is three pills twice a day for five days.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.