Simply after 1 p.m. on Tuesday final week, my telephone buzzed with a textual content message from my mom: “Nicely, got here down with chilly, aches, cough and many others over wknd.” She had taken an at-home coronavirus take a look at. It was optimistic.
Having spent the previous yr writing about Covid-19 vaccines and coverings for The New York Instances, I knew so much concerning the choices accessible to folks like my mom. But I used to be about to go on a seven-hour odyssey that may present me there was so much I didn’t grasp.
My mom, Mary Ann Neilsen, is absolutely vaccinated, together with a booster shot, which sharply diminished the percentages that she would turn out to be severely sick from the virus. However she has a number of threat elements that apprehensive me. She’s 73. She has twice crushed breast most cancers.
Her age and most cancers historical past made her eligible to obtain the newest remedies which were proven to stave off the worst outcomes from Covid. The difficulty, as I knew from my reporting, was that these remedies — together with monoclonal antibody infusions and antiviral capsules — are exhausting to return by.
Demand for the medicine is surging because the Omicron variant of the coronavirus infects file numbers of People. However provides are scarce. The 2 most generally used antibody manufacturers don’t seem to work in opposition to Omicron, and the antiviral capsules are so new and had been developed so rapidly that not many have reached hospitals and pharmacies.
I got down to observe down one in all two remedies: GlaxoSmithKline’s antibody infusion or Pfizer’s antiviral capsules, generally known as Paxlovid. Each have been discovered to be protected and extremely protecting in opposition to extreme Covid when given to high-risk sufferers inside a number of days of the onset of signs. Each are potent in opposition to Omicron.
Considered one of my first steps was to go looking on-line for lists of pharmacies and clinics close to my mom’s residence in Santa Barbara, Calif., which may have one of many medicine in inventory. (I reside in Washington State, so my quest was performed, like a lot else today, remotely.)
Once I known as that well being system, I used to be advised that it had run out.
I additionally hunted for Paxlovid. From my reporting, I knew a few federal database of pharmacy chains, hospital techniques and different suppliers which have positioned orders for the capsules. A Instances colleague downloaded the information, as anybody can do, and despatched it to me in a extra simply searchable format.
The listing turned up only some prospects, principally pharmacies, close to my mom. I dialed the closest one, a CVS, however an worker knowledgeable me that the shop had rapidly run out of the primary cargo of capsules and didn’t know when extra would come.
After a number of extra calls, I discovered a Ceremony Support, greater than an hour’s drive from my mom’s condominium, that had Paxlovid in inventory. The pharmacy warned me that the provision was going quick.
Nonetheless, this was excellent news. I figured I had simply surmounted the hardest impediment, and solely two hours had handed since my mom examined optimistic. Now I simply wanted to get her a prescription.
I had already requested my mom to name her physician’s workplace and request a telephone name together with her doctor so she may ask for a prescription for one of many remedies. She reported again to me that the receptionist had advised her that they “don’t do” both the Glaxo or Pfizer remedies.
That didn’t make sense to me: The Meals and Drug Administration has approved the medicine. Why wouldn’t docs be prescribing them? Annoyed, I known as her physician’s workplace to get an evidence. (I didn’t establish myself as a Instances reporter, in that telephone name or the others I made that day, partly as a result of I didn’t wish to create the looks of looking for preferential therapy.)
The worker who answered the telephone advised me that the docs there had but to conduct their very own medical assessment of Paxlovid and, as a matter of coverage, couldn’t but prescribe it. Furthermore, the worker advised me, my mom would want an appointment to talk to a health care provider, and there have been no slots till per week later.
I started looking for one other physician who would promptly write a prescription.
I attempted scheduling visits with a number of telemedicine suppliers, together with CVS and Teladoc, however I stored seeing a equally worded notification on the consumption types: They weren’t writing prescriptions for Paxlovid or molnupiravir, an identical antiviral capsule from Merck.
(Later, I requested each corporations about these insurance policies. A CVS spokeswoman stated suppliers had been prescribing the antiviral capsules to sufferers they noticed in particular person at some shops however not through telemedicine. A Teladoc spokesman stated the corporate believed at this level that “it’s most applicable” for the antiviral capsules to be prescribed in particular person.)
I began calling pressing care clinics and well being techniques close to my mom to see if they’d write her a prescription. At one level, we even bought her on a video name with a health care provider at a close-by well being system.
Maddeningly, we had been repeatedly advised the identical factor: Their docs couldn’t write prescriptions for Paxlovid throughout digital appointments. My mom must be evaluated in particular person — seemingly defeating the aim of a distant physician’s appointment.
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In any case, this was a nonstarter, as a result of my mom lives alone and doesn’t drive, and the clinics weren’t inside strolling distance. She wouldn’t take into account taking a taxi or a bus and threat exposing others to the virus. On this regard, my mom isn’t alone. Tens of tens of millions of People depend on public transportation. And people with vehicles threat spreading the virus whereas looking for prescriptions in particular person.
Different medical services I known as that afternoon supplied me with data that was simply plain fallacious. One particular person advised me that no monoclonal antibody remedies had been accessible in California. One other insisted that Paxlovid was just for hospitalized sufferers.
Ultimately, my scramble to discover a prescriber turned out to be pointless. Within the early night, my mom bought an surprising name from a health care provider together with her major care supplier. She advised the physician about her signs and concerning the Ceremony Support I had discovered with Paxlovid in inventory.
The physician advised her that he was stunned that we had been in a position to observe down Paxlovid. He phoned in a prescription to the Ceremony Support.
Now we simply wanted to choose up the capsules earlier than the pharmacy closed in about an hour.
Uber got here to the rescue. I requested a pickup on the Ceremony Support and listed the vacation spot as my mom’s residence, some 60 miles away.
As soon as a driver accepted the experience, I known as him and defined my uncommon request: He’d have to get the prescription on the pharmacy window after which drive it to my mom’s. I advised him I’d give him a 100% tip.
The motive force, who requested me to not use his title on this article, was sport. He delivered the dear cargo simply after 8 p.m. My mom swallowed the primary three capsules — the start of a five-day, 30-pill routine — inside minutes of the motive force’s arrival.
“Taking meds & very grateful to have them,” she texted within the household group chat.
By some measures, my search was profitable. My mom began taking the capsules solely two and a half days after her signs started and inside eight hours of testing optimistic.
Inside a number of days, she began feeling higher. She completed the routine this previous weekend.
However the truth that the method was so exhausting for a journalist whose job it’s to know how Paxlovid will get delivered is just not encouraging. I fear that many sufferers or their household would quit when advised “no” as many occasions as I used to be.
I used to be additionally reminded that even a “free” therapy can include important prices.
The federal authorities has purchased sufficient Paxlovid for 20 million People, at a value of about $530 per particular person, to be distributed freed from cost. However I spent $256.54 getting the capsules for my mom. I paid $39 for the telemedicine go to with the supplier who advised my mom that she would want to go to in particular person. The remainder was the Uber fare and tip. Many sufferers and their households can’t afford that.
President Biden lately known as the Pfizer capsules a “sport changer.” My expertise suggests it received’t be fairly so easy.