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President Joe Biden on Wednesday unveiled a federal website that promises “one-stop shopping” for free masks and COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatments.
The website, covid.gov, also includes a list of pharmacies that will be part of the new “test-to-treat” program.
“You’ll also be able to find our new test-to-treat locations,” Biden said at a news briefing. “These are pharmacies and other places in your neighborhood where you can get tested, and if you’re positive, you can get life-saving treatments in one stop.”
Soon after his remarks, he got a second booster of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) authorized the fourth dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines on Tuesday for Americans over 50 and people over 18 who meet specific conditions.
For Americans looking for a vaccine or a booster, covid.gov features a link to vaccines.gov, where you can find a local vaccination center. The public can also use covid.gov to order free tests for home delivery (users are taken to covidtests.gov) and to find free masks, via a link to a CDC webpage.
You can search covid.gov by address or ZIP code to find nearby pharmacies, federally qualified community health centers, Indian Health Service sites, or Veterans Affairs (VA) clinics that offer test-to-treat services.
Throughout the pandemic, it’s been hard to find one source to help navigate everything someone might need to fight COVID, says Jen Kates, PhD, senior vice president and director of Global Health & HIV Policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Covid.gov “is a good step forward to bring everything under one internet roof,” she says. A one-stop shop “will facilitate access.”
As states, counties, and cities begin shuttering their own government-funded programs, being able to easily find sites for COVID-related services may become more important, Kates says.
Some states and localities have been closing down sites because of a decline in demand and case counts. There is also a concern among states that they will not be able to continue if federal money to reimburse for tests, vaccines, and treatments dries up.
The White House has been warning that supplies may run low if it does not get at least $22.5 billion in emergency funds to fight the pandemic. Congress has not yet agreed on whether to approve that request.
In the meantime, the White House has reduced shipments of monoclonal antibodies to states by a third, and Biden said supplies would run out by the end of May.
The president also noted that the government will not have enough vaccines on hand this fall to give every American a second booster shot, although he said there are enough for those over 50 and immunocompromised people.
“Congress, we need to secure additional supply now,” Biden said. “We can’t wait until we find ourselves in the midst of another surge to act. It will be too late.”
The president announced the test-to-treat initiative in his State of the Union speech on March 2. The idea is that people who test positive for COVID-19 in a pharmacy or at a health clinic would be eligible to receive, right away and free of charge, one of two antiviral pills authorized by the FDA — Pfizer’s Paxlovid or Merck’s molnupiravir. Both must be taken within 5 days after symptoms appear, to prevent serious illness.
Biden said that 2000 locations across the United States would now offer test-to-treat, along with 240 federally qualified community health centers, Indian Health Service sites, VA health clinics, and more than 60 Department of Defense medical treatment facilities.
Kates says the test-to-treat concept is important, but “the execution is going to be hard.” But “we know as soon as you get a diagnosis, the sooner you get on treatment, the better.”
She says COVID-related supply issues with tests, vaccines, and especially treatments like Paxlovid are going to create challenges. And pharmacists’ ability to treat patients might be limited in some states by laws that govern the practice of medicine.
Indeed, doctors’ groups have objected to pharmacists being able to dispense a medication directly to a patient, because of the possibility of side effects. Pharmacists also aren’t likely to know someone’s complete medical history, groups such as the American Medical Association have said.
And pharmacies have concerns that the program could only be carried out by stores with on-site clinics, which would limit the type and number of pharmacies that could take part.
Most of the test-to-treat pharmacies listed on covid.gov appear to be large chains, such as CVS and Walgreens, or supermarket-affiliated pharmacies, although there also appear to be some independent stores in some areas.
Alicia Ault is a Lutherville, Maryland-based freelance journalist whose work has appeared in publications including JAMA, Smithsonian.com, The New York Times, and the Washington Post. You can find her on Twitter @aliciaault.
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