The Food and Drug Administration added pharmacists on Wednesday to the list of health care professionals who are allowed to prescribe Pfizer’s pills for treating Covid-19. The move, aimed at making it easier for patients to get the drug, will significantly increase the number of prescribers who can order the treatment, known as Paxlovid.
There are more than 300,000 licensed pharmacists across the United States, according to the American Pharmacists Association, a professional group that has been lobbying for the change.
Previously, only doctors, nurses and physician assistants were allowed to prescribe the treatment. That restriction often forced patients to scramble to find a prescriber and then a location that would dispense the pills, which must be taken within five days of the start of symptoms.
The Biden administration moved earlier this year to expand access to the treatments by launching a “test to treat” program that was intended to allow patients to get a prescription for the pills immediately after testing positive for the virus, and at the same location, often a CVS MinuteClinic. But those clinics required an in-house nurse practitioner or physician assistant to be present to prescribe the drug, and those professionals are not available at many pharmacies.
While pharmacists generally do not have the same prescribing authority as doctors and nurses, they have been gaining more authority in some states to prescribe commonly used drugs for conditions that are easy to manage. Pharmacists’ groups champion these moves as patient-friendly, especially in rural and poorer areas that are underserved by traditional health care providers. Doctors’ groups have generally opposed expanding pharmacists’ prescribing authority, raising concerns about safety risks created by pharmacists’ limited information about a patient’s health history.
On Wednesday, the F.D.A. said that Covid patients seeking a prescription for the pills from a pharmacist should bring records of their recent blood tests and a list of the other medications they take. The pharmacist should then review the records for potential kidney or liver problems or problematic interactions between Paxlovid and the patient’s other drugs, the agency said. A component of Pfizer’s treatment can interfere with certain medications, including common ones for cholesterol and cardiovascular issues, potentially causing serious side effects.
The agency said that pharmacists should refer patients to other prescribers if the records and information about other medications was not available.
Paxlovid has been available under emergency authorization for high-risk Covid patients ages 12 or older since the end of last year. More than 800,000 prescriptions were dispensed in the United States in its first five months of availability, even though initial supplies were limited. Pfizer filed an application last week seeking full approval of Paxlovid.