When My Mom Got COVID, I Went Searching for Pfizer's Pills

1/20/2022 3:41:00 AM

Even a “free” treatment can come with significant costs.

Rite Aid, Antiviral Pills

Even a “free” treatment can come with significant costs.

Just after 1 p.m. Tuesday last week, my phone buzzed with a text message from my mother: “Well, came down with cold, aches, cough etc over wknd.” She had taken an at-home coronavirus test. It was positive. Having spent the past year writing about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments for The New York Times, I knew a lot about the options available to people like my mother. Yet I was about to go on a seven-hour odyssey that would show me there was a lot I didn’t grasp. My mother, Mary Ann Neilsen, is

7 min readHaving spent the past year writing about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments for The New York Times, I knew a lot about the options available to people like my mother. Yet I was about to go on a seven-hour odyssey that would show me there was a lot I didn’t grasp.

Her age and cancer history made her eligible to receive the latest treatments that have been shown to stave off the worst outcomes from COVID. The trouble, as I knew from my reporting, was that these treatments — including monoclonal antibody infusions and antiviral pills — are hard to come by.

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Read full article January 19, 2022, 9:04 PM · 7 min read Mary Ann Neilsen holds her last Paxlovid pills while recovering from COVID-19 in Santa Barara, Calif., her spokesperson announced today.The communications staff at the attorney general's office told The Texas Tribune in an unsigned statement that Paxton had tested positive.vaccine mandates and face mask requirements abound.

, on Jan. 6, 2022. Sajid Javid, health secretary, arrives at No. (Alex Welsh/The New York Times) Just after 1 p. It did not release further information on when Paxton tested positive or how he may have contracted it.m. Sajid Javid told MPs in the House of Commons that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed “that around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five”. Tuesday last week, my phone buzzed with a text message from my mother: “Well, came down with cold, aches, cough etc over wknd. “Now, we need to get inflation under control.

” She had taken an at-home coronavirus test. The change is intended to maximise activity in the economy and education while minimising the risk of people passing on the virus, he said. The attorney general's office gave no information on her condition. It was positive. Having spent the past year writing about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments for The New York Times, I knew a lot about the options available to people like my mother. Previously, people with covid-19 had to self-isolate for a minimum of seven days. Yet I was about to go on a seven-hour odyssey that would show me there was a lot I didn’t grasp. Paxton is the latest state official to be diagnosed with COVID-19 as the omicron variant spreads through Texas. My mother, Mary Ann Neilsen, is fully vaccinated, including a booster shot, which sharply reduced the odds that she would become seriously ill from the virus. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “This is a pragmatic move which leaders will welcome if it can mean more health and care workers who are well enough can return to the frontline, providing it does not significantly add to the risk of the virus spreading. “He is trying to find his place in the world between China and the West.

But she has several risk factors that worried me. She’s 73. Van-Tam, whose appearances in televised covid-19 briefings have been widely praised, has been on secondment to the Department of Health from the University of Nottingham since 2017. Dan Patrick tested positive for COVID-19 the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. She has twice beaten breast cancer. Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times Her age and cancer history made her eligible to receive the latest treatments that have been shown to stave off the worst outcomes from COVID. UK prime minister Boris Johnson thanked Van-Tam “for his extraordinary contribution to our country and his invaluable advice throughout the pandemic”. The trouble, as I knew from my reporting, was that these treatments — including monoclonal antibody infusions and antiviral pills — are hard to come by. Also on Wednesday, U. That bill was once viewed as a catch-all home for various progressive priorities, but now Democrats are sensing the need to deliver another accomplishment to voters in the midterm year and are beginning to come to terms with a slimmed-down package that can overcome Manchin’s reticence.

Demand for the drugs is surging as the omicron variant of the coronavirus infects record numbers of Americans. “Endemicity assumes that there’s stable circulation of the virus, at predictable levels with predictable waves of transmission… that doesn’t rely on external forces being placed in order to maintain that stability,” Catherine Smallwood said at a press conference on Tuesday . But supplies are scarce. The two most widely used antibody brands don’t appear to work against omicron, and the antiviral pills are so new and were developed so quickly that not many have reached hospitals and pharmacies. We can’t just sit back and see a stable rate of transmission. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, D-Houston, announced on Twitter that she'd developed a breakthrough case of COVID-19. I set out to track down one of two treatments: GlaxoSmithKline’s antibody infusion or Pfizer’s antiviral pills, known as Paxlovid. Both have been found to be safe and highly protective against severe COVID when given to high-risk patients within a few days of the onset of symptoms. There were thousands fewer admissions for meningitis, flu, tonsillitis and pneumonia and other conditions as the nation went into lockdown, schools closed and children’s social contacts significantly reduced. “I don’t believe the polls,” he said.

Both are potent against omicron." Patrick Svitek contributed to this report. One of my first steps was to search online for lists of pharmacies and clinics near my mother’s home in Santa Barbara, California, that might have one of the drugs in stock. The study analysed data from 2017 to mid-2021. (I live in Washington state, so my quest was conducted, like so much else these days, remotely.) Story continues Some states, like Tennessee and Florida, have useful online tools for finding a facility with monoclonal antibodies in stock. Since the start of January, a surge in cases caused by the omicron variant has led to major disruption, with about 10,000 classes closed due to infections among staff and pupils. But I couldn’t find one for California.

I checked a federal database, which had only one listing within 25 miles of my mother. Fans watch a football match in Seville, Spain Getty Images Europe 12 January The coronavirus pandemic is rapidly moving toward becoming endemic, according to the European Medicines Agency As cases of coronavirus continue to soar around the world, the status of the coronavirus outbreak is rapidly moving from pandemic to endemic, according to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). When I called that health system, I was told that it had run out. I also hunted for Paxlovid. “What is important and what we’re seeing is that we are moving towards the virus being more endemic. From my reporting, I knew about a federal database of pharmacy chains, hospital systems and other providers that have placed orders for the pills. A Times colleague downloaded the data, as anyone can do, and sent it to me in a more easily searchable format. The term technically means that infections are stable and predictable.

The list turned up only a few possibilities, mostly pharmacies, near my mother. I dialed the closest one, a CVS, but an employee informed me that the store had quickly run out of the first shipment of pills and didn’t know when more would come. Germany and Bulgaria both reported the highest daily rate of new cases since the start of the pandemic in the last 24 hours, for example, reports . After a few more calls, I found a Rite Aid, more than an hour’s drive from my mother’s apartment, that had Paxlovid in stock. The pharmacy warned me that the supply was going fast. “Nevertheless… with omicron there will be a lot of natural immunity taking place on top of vaccination, we will be [rapidly] moving towards a scenario that will be closer to endemicity. Still, this was good news.

I figured I had just surmounted the toughest obstacle, and only two hours had passed since my mother tested positive. “We are rather concerned about a strategy that entangles repeated vaccination within a short term,” he said. Now I just needed to get her a prescription. I had already asked my mother to call her doctor’s office and request a phone call with her physician so she could ask for a prescription for one of the treatments. However, Ugur Sahin, the head of BioNTech, yesterday told the JP Morgan Health Care Conference: “We do not know how much immunity is associated with an omicron infection. She reported back to me that the receptionist had told her that they “don’t do” either the Glaxo or Pfizer treatments. That didn’t make sense to me. “We anticipate to be ready for market supply by March 2022, subject to regulatory approval.

The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the drugs. Why wouldn’t doctors be prescribing them? Frustrated, I called her doctor’s office to get an explanation.” He also told the conference that three billion doses of the original Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were made in 2021. (I did not identify myself as a Times reporter, in that phone call or the others I made that day, in part because I did not want to create the appearance of seeking preferential treatment.) The employee who answered the phone told me that the doctors there had yet to conduct their own medical review of Paxlovid and, as a matter of policy, could not yet prescribe it.6 billion doses and more than a billion people in 162 countries or regions have been vaccinated with them, the head of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, told the JP Morgan healthcare conference on 11 January. Moreover, the employee told me, my mother would need an appointment to speak to a doctor, and there were no slots until a week later.

I began hunting for another doctor who would promptly write a prescription. Commuters wait on the platform at Auber RER train station in Paris, France Nathan Laine/Bloomberg via Getty Images 11 January More than 50 per cent of people in Europe will be infected by the omicron variant within the next 6 to 8 weeks, warns WHO Most people in Europe will become infected with the omicron variant in the next 6 to 8 weeks if the trend in case rates continues, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. I tried scheduling visits with several telemedicine providers, including CVS and Teladoc, but I kept seeing a similarly worded notification on the intake forms: They were not writing prescriptions for Paxlovid or molnupiravir, a similar antiviral pill from Merck. (Later, I asked both companies about these policies. “As of 10 January, 26 countries reported over 1 per cent of their population is catching covid-19 each week,” Kluge said. A CVS spokesperson said providers were prescribing the antiviral pills to patients they saw in person at some stores but not via telemedicine. A Teladoc spokesperson said the company believed at this point that “it’s most appropriate” for the antiviral pills to be prescribed in person.” Other coronavirus news Over 176,000 people in the UK have had covid-19 mentioned on their death certificate since the start of pandemic, according to the nation’s Office for National Statistics,.

) I started calling urgent care clinics and health systems near my mother to see if they would write her a prescription. At one point, we even got her on a video call with a doctor at a nearby health system. Maddeningly, we were repeatedly told the same thing: Their doctors couldn’t write prescriptions for Paxlovid during virtual appointments. My mother would have to be evaluated in person — seemingly defeating the purpose of a remote doctor’s appointment. In any case, this was a nonstarter, because my mother lives alone and doesn’t drive, and the clinics weren’t within walking distance.

She would not consider taking a taxi or a bus and risk exposing others to the virus. In this regard, my mother isn’t alone. Tens of millions of Americans rely on public transportation. And those with cars risk spreading the virus while seeking prescriptions in person. Other medical facilities I called that afternoon provided me with information that was just plain wrong.

One person told me that no monoclonal antibody treatments were available in California. Another insisted that Paxlovid was only for hospitalized patients. In the end, my scramble to find a prescriber turned out to be unnecessary. In the early evening, my mother got an unexpected call from a doctor with her primary care provider. She told the doctor about her symptoms and about the Rite Aid I had found with Paxlovid in stock.

The doctor told her that he was surprised that we had been able to track down Paxlovid. He phoned in a prescription to the Rite Aid. Now we just needed to pick up the pills before the pharmacy closed in about an hour. Uber came to the rescue. I requested a pickup at the Rite Aid and listed the destination as my mother’s home, some 60 miles away.

Once a driver accepted the ride, I called him and explained my unusual request: He’d need to get the prescription at the pharmacy window and then drive it to my mother’s. I told him I’d give him a 100% tip. The driver, who asked me not to use his name in this article, was game. He delivered the precious cargo just after 8 p.m.

My mother swallowed the first three pills — the beginning of a five-day, 30-pill regimen — within minutes of the driver’s arrival. “Taking meds & very thankful to have them,” she texted in the family group chat. By some measures, my search was successful. My mother started taking the pills only 2 1/2 days after her symptoms began and within eight hours of testing positive. Within a few days, she started feeling better.

She finished the regimen this past weekend. But the fact that the process was so hard for a journalist whose job it is to understand how Paxlovid gets delivered is not encouraging. I worry that many patients or their family would give up when told no as many times as I was. I was also reminded that even a “free” treatment can come with significant costs. The federal government has bought enough Paxlovid for 20 million Americans, at a cost of about $530 per person, to be distributed free of charge.

But I spent $256.54 getting the pills for my mother. I paid $39 for the telemedicine visit with the provider who told my mother that she would need to visit in person. The rest was the Uber fare and tip. Many patients and their families can’t afford that.

President Joe Biden recently called the Pfizer pills a “game changer.” My experience suggests it won’t be quite so simple. © 2022 The New York Times Company Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting Recommended Stories .