Outpatient treatments for people with COVID-19 are now available and on the shelves of several San Diego County pharmacies.
While supplies are limited, they're the latest step in relieving overburdened healthcare systems. Antiviral medications are the promise those likely to be severely affected by the virus have been waiting for. They are not a vaccine replacement, but like the vaccines, they are designed to keep patients from dying and out of the hospital.
"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We need to be preventing this disease rather than chasing it, but these are welcome tools to add to the tool kit," Dr. Christian Ramers said.
Dr. Ramers with Family Health Centers of San Diego was so thrilled with the government's release of these treatments he posted it online Thursday.
The emergency-use-approved drugs include the IV treatment Setrovimab and the pills Paxlovid and Molnupiravir. Ramers said two of the three treatments are as high as 87% effective in preventing severe illness.
"This is paid for by the government. The U.S. government has bought all of these doses and they are provided free of charge to all these clinics like mine and free of charge to patients."
At this point the drugs are in short supply. Dr. Ramers said Family Health Centers received just enough to treat 500 patients, but hundreds more need it.
Patients that qualify must have been tested and proved positive, and within the first five days of symptoms. Dr. Ramers said available testing is at a breaking point.
For now, only those high-risk patients, not the general public, qualify for these treatments. Because there are more that need it than available supplies, the National Institutes of Health created a triage-like tier system for clinicians to follow.
Immune compromised, unvaccinated 75 years or older, unvaccinated 65 years or older with underlying medical conditions
Under 65 with underlying risk factors
Vaccinated at risk for severe disease above age 75 or above 65 with risk factors
Other vaccinated people with risk factors
"It really prevents favoritism and people jumping the line. It clearly just goes in a very cold and callous way, who is most likely to die from COVID and who is most likely to go into the hospital."
Dr. Ramers said high-risk factors include obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart, lung or kidney disease.
"The best hope we can have is just keeping more people out of the hospital, protecting our health care infrastructure -- which is so precious -- that we are all going to need sooner or later within our lives." Dr. Ramers said.