Michigan recently received the first shipment of authorized oral medications to treat COVID-19, the state Department of Health announced Friday.
The drugs, paxlovid and molanupiravir, were granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration in December. and are in limited supply. They are available by prescription only.
Elizabeth Hertel, director of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the department has developed eligibility criteria for health care providers to determine which patients they should prescribe medications.
According to the state’s priority eligibility for COVID-19 outpatient therapy, health care providers should prioritize patients at risk for severe COVID-19.
According to the criteria updated on December 31, moderate to severely immunized patients, regardless of vaccination status, are eligible for the drug. People over 75 who have not been fully vaccinated nor received a booster shot are also eligible.
Patients who are 65-74 and have not been fully vaccinated can also receive molanupiravir, although the Department of Health states that the drug should be used when alternative treatment options, such as monoclonal antibody treatment, are accessible. or not be medically fit.
“We ask the people of Michigan to be patient as providers will prioritize those at highest risk for developing serious illness from the virus,” Hertel said in a press release. “We are committed to distributing these pills more equitably across the state, and access will increase as Michigan receives more allocations from the federal government.”
The state health department said Friday that its first allocation of oral antivirals included 7,080 courses of mollupiravir, enough to treat many patients. Michigan was allocated 1,600 courses of PaxLovid. The department is expecting additional allocation on Monday.
Antiviral drugs are designed for outpatient treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19. When they are administered within five days of initial symptoms, they can reduce a person’s risk of hospitalization and death.
Subhasis Mitra, interim chief of Michigan State University’s Division of Infectious Diseases, said antiviral drugs are promising and should continue to work well against newer forms of the virus. But their impact will depend on manufacturers’ ability to manufacture them and whether the supply chain is ready to distribute them.
“I think the biggest challenge is just to get them in sufficient supply,” Mitra said. “Hopefully there’s a push from manufacturers and everyone else, so everyone can have easy access to it. Getting approval is one thing and another supply.”
State Chief Medical Executive Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian said that vaccination and promotion are the best protection against COVID-19.
“It is important to remember that these drugs are not a substitute for vaccinating in public places and protecting yourself by wearing a mask,” Bagdasarian said. “Getting vaccinated is the best defense against serious illness and hospitalization, and we urge all Michigan people over the age of 5 to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Continue to wear masks that fit well over your nose and mouth, test and social distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19, avoid large gatherings and if you haven’t already been vaccinated and promoted.”
Monoclonal antibody treatment is also available for some Michigan patients who are immunocompromised, have other risk factors, are aged 75 years and older or are 65 years of age and older but have not been fully vaccinated.
Monoclonal antibody treatment is preferred over molanupiravir, one of two available antiviral drugs. It is on par with the other antiviral, paxlovid.
Paxlovid currently has limited availability through certain federally qualified health centers, tribal health centers and 10 major pharmacies in southeast and east-central Michigan in the hardest-hit areas of the state. Patients must be 12 or older to receive Paxlovid.
Molnupiravir is available in limited quantities at Meijer pharmacies and select retail pharmacies in areas without Meijer stores. Patients must be 18 or older to receive molnupiravir.
More information is available at michigan.gov/covidtherapy.