How's the COVID Antiviral Drug Debut Going? And How You Can Track Down The Meds

By Josh Bloom — Feb 08, 2022
It's been an interesting month COVID-wise. The COVID antivirals made their way to pharmacies. All in all, things went pretty well (unless you happen to be Merck). Here, you'll learn how to locate pharmacies in your area that have been selected to carry the drugs, and how to see if the pills are in stock.

I recently wrote an article comparing the availability and use of the two newly approved anti-COVID drugs (1) Paxlovid and molnupiravir. Bottom line: Doctors and patients voted with their scripts. While you could pretty much get a lifetime supply of molnupiravir by simply standing on the street and extending an open hand, it is not clear whether the Pope could get his hands on a box of Paxlovid if he was on his deathbed. Paxlovid was disappearing from pharmacies within days – more often hours – from the time it was delivered, while pharmacists practically had to beg people to take molnupiravir off their hands. And it's not like COVID had taken a break at this time; omicron was still raging in New York State when the drugs became available.

Things are much different now. Has this pattern changed? Oh, yes. Let's take a look. 

Figure 1. January 17th, the availability molnupiravir and Paxlovid on Long Island, NY, Population 8 million. (Ignore the yellow dots; they represent antibody treatments. Each dot represents a pharmacy that has been allocated antiviral drugs.)

Halfway through January all (2) of the 480 Paxlovid doses allocated to Long Island were gone while pharmacies couldn't get rid of their stock of molnupiravir. Today (February 8th), things are quite different. Molnupiravir is still about as popular as a herpes outbreak at an orgy, while Paxlovid -- which actually works -- is finally available for those who need it. 

Figure 2, top. Supply of molnupiravir on February 8th: About three-quarters of allocated courses remain in the 10 Long Island pharmacies that carry COVID antivirals. Figure 3, bottom. About half of the allocated Paxlovid is available. Supply is, fortunately, no longer an issue.  

A much easier question to answer is whether its "competitor," molnupiravir, is being used. A recent Reuters article leaves little doubt:

According to the article, hundreds of thousands of courses of molnupiravir, which now has the brand name Lagevrio, are sitting on pharmacy shelves:

"I can't give molnupiravir away...Paxlovid flies off the shelves even with drug interactions."

Steve Moore, pharmacist and owner of Condo Pharmacy in Plattsburgh, N.Y.

Apparently, Merck isn't giving up, at least yet.

"There is a lot of education that will need to be done over the next few weeks and months to get people up to speed." 

Eliav Barr, head of global medical affairs at Merck.

It would seem that Mr. Barr has quite a task ahead of him.

How can you find out where to get the drugs?

It requires breaking a rule or two, but let's do it anyhow. 

1. Go to the COVID Therapeutics Locator. You'll see something like this:

2. You'll also see this map:

3. Use the search function (yellow arrow) to put in your zip code, town, etc. 

4. Let's use Tampa, FL. The purple dots refer to pharmacies that have Paxlovid in stock.

5. Click on the big purple dot (Tampa Walmart pharmacy). This will show information on which drugs the pharmacy has in stock.

6. Ignore the rule shown in #1. Call the pharmacies yourself. They will tell you if they have the drug you want. Then, if you need it, your doctor won't have to do this search and you'll get the drug faster.

We are entering a critical phase in the COVID saga. Antiviral drugs are available. If you take them within 5 days of the onset of symptoms they should keep you from getting really sick. Will people do this (the drugs are free)? Will we see a drop in severe illness and fewer hospitalizations? These drugs could be very important if/when "another omicron" shows up. 

Anyone out there used them yet? Feel free to share your experience in the comments section.


(1) The article was limited to direct-acting antiviral drugs.

(2) The number 2 was wrong; it was really zero. I called that pharmacy and they told me that they had been out of stock for a week.

#Conflict of interest statement: My IRA contains both Pfizer and Merck stock

Josh Bloom

Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science

Dr. Josh Bloom, the Director of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Science, comes from the world of drug discovery, where he did research for more than 20 years. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry.

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