President Joe Biden’s administration Wednesday announced a new COVID-19 preparedness plan, offering more support to schools and businesses to remain open during outbreaks, combatting and preventing new viral variants, and providing high-risk Americans with better access to drugs that can prevent severe COVID -19.
Many of these priorities will require funding authorization from Congress.
Right now, it’s complicated to access medications for COVID-19, which must be given within five to seven days of symptoms beginning. Tests can sometimes take days to confirm an infection. Getting a prescription can be tricky and time-consuming, particularly for people without a primary care doctor. And the drugs remain in short supply.
With his “test to treat” initiative, Biden plans to dramatically increase supply, particularly of an antiviral made by Pfizer, which has been shown to prevent nearly 90% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in people at high risk for disease.
He Tuesday announced that his administration has bought 20 million doses of the antiviral and Pfizer will provide 1 million doses this month twice that amount next month. Monoclonal antibodies, which provide the body tools to fight off infection, will also be made available for free, along with the drug remdesivir, which has been shown to prevent the vast majority of hospitalizations if given within a week of starting symptoms.
Biden’s plan also dramatically shortens the process of receiving a prescription for these medications, by allowing pharmacies and community health centers that provide COVID-19 testing to also prescribe the antivirals and monoclonal antibodies.
The Administration promises to launch these “one-stop shops” later this month, including hundreds of sites across the country at CVS, Walgreens, and Kroger pharmacies.
Antiviral pills will also be provided directly to long-term care facilities, according to the initiative.
The United States will also continue to provide vaccine to other parts of the world where access remains limited, to help contain outbreaks and reduce the risk of new variants developing, the administration said. The US has promised to provide 1.2 billion vaccine doses to low-income countries and conflict zones, as well as oxygen, protective equipment and other supplies.
More money will be needed from Congress to pursue those goals, the administration said.
Additional funding will also be required to support better ventilation and air filtration in schools and businesses, sick leave for people who are infected or who need to care for someone infected with COVID-19 and help keep child care facilities open.
Congressional support will be needed to provide better data, including from wastewater, to track infections nationwide, confirm the effectiveness of vaccines and medications against new variants, provide emergency supplies, extend hospital capacity and accelerate development and distribution of new vaccines and treatments.
Other administration priorities include vaccinating young children if and when shots are approved in this age group, increasing American manufacturing capacity to produce 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine annually, expanding and extending COVID-19 testing capacity in the US and helping with the long -term impacts of the pandemic, including long-COVID and mental health support for healthcare workers.
As part of the effort to provide more free, at-home testing, starting next week, people who have already ordered tests through COVIDTests.gov can place an order for an additional four tests.
Contact Weintraub at [email protected].
Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism