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By Miriam Raftery

Photo via U.S. FDA

December 23, 2021 (San Diego) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued emergency use authorizations for two new oral anti-viral medications – the first COVID-19 oral medications for home use. However, the County warns in a press release today, “Supplies of these medications will initially be very limited and San Diegans should continue to mask up this holiday season to prevent infection.

The County expects its first shipment of Pfizer’s Paxlovid in the coming days. A second oral antiviral, Merck’s molnupiravir, is expected to start arriving in the region soon after.

A prescription from a medical provider will be required for either drug. Both Paxlovid and molnupiravir are administered over the course of several days in pill form. Both will be available to patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms who are at risk of progressing to severe coronavirus disease, including hospitalization or death. However molnupiravir is not recommended for those under age 18 or for pregnant women.

“The FDA’s emergency use authorization of these new oral antivirals comes at a critical point in the pandemic as we see an increase in cases and a rapid spread of the Omicron variant,” said Wilma J. Wooten, M.D., M.P.H., County public health officer. “However, news of the arrival of these drugs does not mean we can let our guard down. We need to continue to mask up, especially in crowded indoor spaces, and I urge anyone who has not gotten vaccinated, or is overdue for their booster shot, to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”

Once the new oral antiviral treatments arrive in the region, they will initially be distributed through about two dozen area pharmacies. Pharmacy locations were pre-selected by the California Department of Public Health. The amount each pharmacy is receiving is based on community impact from the pandemic.

The state and County will expand distribution to more pharmacy locations as supplies increase.

The emergency approval comes amid a surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide fueled in part by the new Omnicron variant. 

At Sharp Grossmont Hospital, East County’s largest hospital, 95.6% of its ICU bed in use and 88.3% of all beds are full. However the situation is less dire at Kaiser Permanente, where 88.7% of beds are full but only 25.5% of ICU beds are occupied, and at Alvarado Medical Center, where 70.4% of beds are full along with 52.8% of ICU beds, according to state health data.

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