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Despite power to prescribe, Hampton Roads pharmacists see low interest in COVID-19 pill

The FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization to state-registered pharmacists this July.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Virginians can now skip the trip to their doctor by getting an oral COVID-19 treatment.

This July, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization allowing state-registered pharmacists to prescribe the antiviral treatment Paxlovid to individuals who test positive for the virus. 

The decision signals uncharted territory for independent pharmacists like James Mitchell. 

“Had it on the shelf for months, but I’ve never filled a prescription," he said.

Mitchell, the owner of the recently opened Southeast Community Pharmacy in Newport News, is still waiting for someone to ask about his inventory of the treatment. Of the more than one dozen treatment doses he ordered at the beginning of the year, he has yet to fill a prescription -- or prescribe through himself -- the pill.  

"Probably is because they don’t know it’s available in the pharmacy through the pharmacist, with restrictions," he said. 

Here are some of the documents individuals need to provide to acquire the pill through a pharmacist, according to the FDA:

  • Electronic or printed health records less than 12 months old, including the most recent reports of laboratory blood work for the state-licensed pharmacist to review for kidney or liver problems. State-licensed pharmacists could also receive this information through a consult with the patient’s health care provider.
  • A list of all medications they are taking, including over-the-counter medications so the state-licensed pharmacist can screen for drugs with potentially serious interactions with Paxlovid.

Mitchell added that what makes this a unique position for pharmacists is that this ability to potentially diagnose patients is not within the standard area of expertise for pharmacists.

"This is considerably different, this is prescribing prescription medication. This is a new boundary. We’ve never been able to do that," he said. "I was not trained as a diagnostician, I'm trained as a dispenser. There is a difference."

At Peoples Pharmacy in Norfolk, Dr. Anna Peoples said that since the EUA, it's dispensed roughly five prescriptions, three of which came from outside referrals and another two come from patients who tested positive at the pharmacy. 

She said that having this level of decision-making is a positive for pharmacists since they interact with their clientele on a more reoccurring and regular basis. 

“Pharmacists are more accessible to the community than any other medical profession. We see folks once, twice a month," she said. 

Patients taking Paxlovid are supposed to take it within 5 days of showing symptoms. 

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