Personal care treatments

New York City struggles to quickly get COVID-19 antiviral treatments to residents

When Brooklyn resident Octavius ​​Moore tested positive for COVID-19, confirmed by two home tests, his colleagues gave him advice on how to treat his symptoms.

“A member of the team who also tested positive after returning from Caucus Weekend told me about the antiviral treatment and that I should try to reach out and get a prescription for it. So I decided to do it,” said Moore, who said he called a number through New York City Health + Hospitals to get the pills.

“I called the 800 number, which was horrible. It took me three times to call the number to get it,” he said.

It was so difficult for Moore to stay awake during his three 30-minute calls to Health + Hospitals that when he finally connected with an operator, they had to shout into the phone to wake him from his virus-related fatigue .

In response, Dr. Ted Long, senior vice president of ambulatory care and population health at New York City Health + Hospitals, said, “Our experience has been that the wait time has been pretty good, but we always welcome more feedback.

Moore’s experience – waiting a long time to get in touch with the hospital system to get a prescription and asking a friend to pick up the prescription because he was too sick to get it himself – didn’t help. not been unique. Several other people in New York City reported the same issue and the inability of Alto, the city’s preferred delivery service, to deliver medication to them in a timely manner.

With COVID-19, treatment must begin within five to seven days, depending on the drug, positive test. If antivirals are taken too late, a person’s symptoms can continue to worsen, even for those who are vaccinated.

Antiviral treatments, which range from pills like Pfizer’s Paxlovid to an intravenous infusion of antibodies, were initially available in late January for the city’s elderly as well as immunocompromised residents who tested positive.

Although at the end of March, treatments were available to anyone who has tested positive, either by PCR test or by home test, and wants to be sure that their symptoms will not worsen after a positive test.

Health + Hospitals has issued more than 3,500 prescriptions for Paxlovid, with 90% of those prescriptions being filled through their phone system, according to spokespersons Patrick Gallahue and Adam Shrier. The system also delivered 22,000 Paxlovid courses, of which approximately 75% were placed through Alto.

I called the 800 number which was horrible. It took me three times to call the number to get it.

– Brooklyn resident Octavius ​​Moore on New York City Health + Hospitals COVID-19 Antiviral Hotline

I called the 800 number which was horrible. It took me three times to call the number to get it.

Moore heard about these treatments from someone who contracted the virus at work and was able to get a prescription for the antiviral drug to ease his symptoms. Although the treatments have been widely available for a few months, public health experts have said the antivirals have not been widely distributed outside of social media and by word of mouth.

Miesha Marzell, professor of public health at Binghamton University, said high-level politicians who tested positive for COVID-19 and immediately received the best treatments might be hesitant to talk about antivirals and their availability compared to to the frustrations that the residents had in getting them as well.

“It kind of exposes that disparity. … I don’t think they could advertise it because they know it’s almost hypocritical,” Marzell said.

She added: “In terms of the publicity…it’s speculation that public health officials, government officials are just a little bit reluctant to really say this is what you need to do when the drug might not have not be readily available in their communities.

New York Mayor Eric Adams tested positive for COVID-19 in April and started an antiviral regimen right away. “We have come so far in our fight against #COVID19 and make no mistake: we are winning. Vaccines and antiviral treatments are saving lives from this formidable enemy,” he tweeted.

The city aired public service announcements similar to those that became popular with former health commissioner Dr Dave Chokshi. on social networksand the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene was work with local media to publicize these treatments in several languages. In addition, the city has started a Test to treat program, which allows select pharmacies to test patients for COVID-19 and, if positive, prescribe Paxlovid on the spot.

However, transmission rates tend to increase due to the spread of various omicron subvariants. The hospitalizations and deaths resulting from this new outbreak, which pushed the city back to “high” levels of transmission, could be mitigated with the widespread availability of antiviral treatment.

According to US Department of Health and Human ServicesNew York City has more than 500 pharmacies where residents can purchase Paxlovid.

Some public health experts, while happy to learn of the availability of these treatments, said their availability at pharmacies may not be known to residents seeking a prescription after testing positive at home.

“A lot of times older people might not have access to the same information that you have on social media. I think the city needs to do more, maybe more targeted outreach to community members who are part of these different groups who would benefit the most,” said Dr. Oni Blackstock, founder and executive director of Health Justice, a consulting group focused on anti-racism and equity in health care.

Blackstock said these advertising campaigns should be more focused on the audience who could benefit the most from these treatments.

Complaints about messaging and communication about these treatments are to be expected from residents like Moore who have had direct experience with the city’s bureaucracy. Both he and experts like Marzell felt that delivery and over-the-counter options should be better implemented to ensure New Yorkers can treat their symptoms quickly and safely.

Marzell said, “So it’s like we have the tools in upstate New York. We have the tools in the country. We have the tools in the world, but to whom do the tools reach? Who benefits from these efforts? »