The Department of Health Services (DHS) announced on January 5 that Wisconsin had received the first allocation of oral antiviral COVID-19 treatments molnupiravir and Paxlovid to care for patients diagnosed with mild to moderate COVID-19.

The initial supply available to states from the federal government is extremely limited. Under guidance developed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), health care providers are encouraged to prioritize prescribing these new therapeutics to those patients at greatest risk of serious illness or hospitalization from COVID-19. Wisconsinites who may be eligible for these treatments should talk with their health care provider.

“While these new antiviral pills may help treat COVID-19, it’s important to remember these drugs are not a substitution for protecting yourself by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public places,” said DHS Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake. “We anticipate high demand for these medications, and we know that the initial supply we are receiving will be extremely limited. Please be patient as providers will prioritize people at highest risk for developing serious illness from the virus. We are committed to distributing these pills equitably across the state, and access will increase as Wisconsin receives more allocations from the federal government.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued emergency use authorizations (EUA) for two antiviral pills to be taken at home. Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir treat patients diagnosed with mild to moderate COVID-19. These pills must be taken within 5 days of when a person’s symptoms begin.

Paxlovid can be used in people over age 12 who do not take certain medications, and molnupiravir can be for adults over 18 who are not pregnant or breast feeding. Both antiviral pills are intended for people who are at risk of developing severe COVID-19.

Individuals are encouraged to get tested as soon as symptoms develop, and speak with a health care provider to determine eligibility for an oral treatment. More information can be found on the DHS COVID-19 webpage.

“As our hospitals approach capacity and the Omicron variant spreads rapidly in Wisconsin, antiviral pills will help prevent severe disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Meiman, a Chief Medical Officer at DHS. “Since these medications are most effective early in the course of the virus, it is urgent that people at risk for severe COVID-19 get tested at the first sign of illness and seek medical care so their provider can determine if they should receive these pills.”

Wisconsin’s first allocation from the federal government included 940 courses of Paxlovid and 4,320 courses of molnupiravir. DHS distributed the courses to select pharmacies by January 7. As Wisconsin receives more allocations from the federal government, DHS will continue to distribute the antiviral pills equitably throughout the state.

Vaccination remains the best protection against serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. The best strategy people have for protecting themselves, family members, friends, and the Milwaukee community from COVID-19 is to get vaccinated and get a booster when eligible; wear a tight fitting mask when in public; get tested as soon as possible if exposed to the virus; and refrain from attending large gatherings until the current surge in cases subsides.

The Milwaukee Independent began reporting on what was then referred to as the mysterious “Wuhan Virus” in January 2020. Other local media did not picked-up on the story until many weeks later. Our early features focused on the economic impact, social issues, and health concerns long before other Milwaukee news organizations even mentioned the coronavirus. Over the following year, we have published hundreds of articles about the pandemic and how it has affected the lives of Milwaukee residents. This extensive body of work can be found on our COVID-19 Special Report page, a chronological index of links by month. Our editorial voice remains dedicated to informing the public about this health crisis for as long as it persists.
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