U.S. doubling and accelerating order of Pfizer antiviral pills

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President Biden announced on Tuesday that he's directing his team to double the United States' order of Pfizer antiviral pills from 10 million COVID-19 treatment courses to 20 million treatment courses, and the delivery will be accelerated from September to June.

“We may need even more. That's the estimate we need right now,” Mr. Biden said, noting the pills will dramatically decrease hospitalizations and deaths. “… They're a game changer.” 

Mr. Biden remarked on the Pfizer pills, which treat patients who have contracted COVID, during a Tuesday afternoon meeting with members of the White House COVID-19 Response team, as the contagious Omicron variant leads to the highest cast rates of the pandemic.

Last month, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization for Pfizer's antiviral pill, Paxlovid, to treat COVID-19 for Americans as young as 12 who are at “high risk for progression to severe COVID-19.” In a study, Pfizer said its pill was 89% effective at preventing hospitalization and death among such high-risk patients. Pfizer says the pill works by blocking the ability of the virus to make copies of itself. 

A senior administration official told CBS News producing the pills takes a long time because of its complex synthetic manufacturing process. The federal government's order is in the process of being manufactured, and the official said the government is getting the pills as soon as they come off the production line. The official noted that the Pfizer antiviral pill is one tool in the toolbox of ways to combat the virus, and that by the end of January there will be 4 million COVID-19 treatments available to Americans, a mix of monoclonal antibodies, pre-exposure prevention treatments, and antiviral pills. 

Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb told CBS News' “Face the Nation” Sunday that the Omicron variant appears to be a “milder strain” of the virus, but still poses a danger to unvaccinated children. New York's acting health commissioner, Dr. Mary T. Bassett, said last week that pediatric hospitalizations had risen 395% in New York City since the week ending December 11. 

The White House has said it's working to establish a website where people can request free at-home rapid tests, as some parts of the country experience shortages of these tests. And it said the website will be up in January, but how long most Americans will have to wait to receive the kits remains unclear. 

Starting next week, private insurance companies will be required to reimburse insured Americans for at-home COVID tests, although patients will still need to file a claim to receive reimbursement.

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