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'Just ask': OHSU pharmacist says antiviral COVID-19 treatments, therapeutics are widely available to people with symptoms

Early on in the pandemic, only hospitalized patients were able to get COVID treatments. Now, health care experts urge people to ask their provider if they qualify.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The sooner, the better. That's what pharmacists say when it comes to taking the treatments aimed at lessening the effects of COVID-19

Nowadays, the antiviral pills and IV infusions of monoclonal antibodies are available to more people. 

"We have a lot more options now," said Dr. Young Yoon Ham, an infectious disease pharmacist at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). "We have basically options that we didn’t have at all in the beginning parts of COVID for mild therapeutics."

Dr. Ham explained there are four different treatment options, from pills to infusions. The most common is called Paxlovid. 

"It’s an oral medication and you take it for five days," she said. "It can reduce the amount of people going into the hospital for COVID by about 90%."

Make sure to call your primary care provider to ask if you qualify. If not, you may be able to take an on-site infusion. 

Dr. Ham said researchers are learning that medications like Remdesivir help quite a bit when a patient takes them early on.

"When we started using it in hospitals when people were pretty sick, it didn’t actually seem all that effective. But, we do have a study out for Remdesivir and we start giving it to them at the point of mild disease — it’s actually very effective, it’s like just as effective as Paxlovid."

There's also another pill from Merck, called molnupiravir. Dr. Ham said it's effective, though studies have shown its efficacy is lower than the other treatment options. 

Dr. Ham said most people might qualify for at least one of the treatments. 

"If you have COVID and you are sick, just ask. I don’t want people to be scared away by stories that they’ve heard about how limited these treatments are — because other places have limited them more than we have. 

"Just reach out to health care providers see if you qualify and let them make that decision, but you shouldn't not reach out because you don’t think that you’re qualified."

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