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Getting anti-COVID-19 drugs could soon be as easy as dropping by the drugstore

Boxes of Pfizer's Paxlovid antiviral medication.Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg

Getting antiviral drugs to treat COVID-19 could soon be as simple as stopping by the local drugstore.

The “Test to Treat” program unveiled by the Biden administration this month is intended to get those at high risk of developing severe disease treated “quickly and easily” with the drugs, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

People will be able to stop by a pharmacy-based clinic and take a free test and, if they are positive, receive the pills immediately at no charge. People who have tested positive at home can also receive the drugs after seeing a health care provider at the store, according to HHS.


People will be able to get the pills “on the spot at no cost,” Biden said in his State of the Union address on March 1.

The program will dispense the oral antiviral drugs from Pfizer (Paxlovid) and Merck (molnupiravir), officials said. A new website, which is expected in the coming days, will guide people to “Test to Treat” sites.

Some of the nation’s largest health care chains are participating, including CVS, officials said.

CVS spokeswoman Tara Burke said Monday by e-mail that “we’ve started to receive our Test to Treat allocation of COVID oral antivirals from the Federal Government, allowing us to begin utilizing the Test to Treat model for CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic patients. All of our 1,200 MinuteClinic medical clinics are participating in the Test to Treat program.”

The drugs are also being distributed to federally qualified community health centers and long-term care pharmacies, the HHS said.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Health said by e-mail that 52 CVS Minute Clinics will take part in the program, along with a number of long-term care pharmacies.

People have already been able to obtain prescriptions for the drugs from their doctors, and that will continue, the HHS said.


After the Biden administration announced the program, the American Medical Association raised concerns about “challenging prescribing decisions” being made by pharmacy clinic staff unfamiliar with patients’ medical histories. But administration officials said one of the goals of the program was to give access to people who may not have a primary care doctor to turn to. “Now they have a path,” Dr. Cameron Webb, senior adviser for equity on the White House coronavirus task force, told the Washington Post this month.

Experts say it’s crucial that people at high risk take action quickly if they have COVID-19 because treatment must begin within the first few days of symptoms to be effective.

“If you’re a high-risk individual, you want to make the diagnosis as quickly as possible,” Dr. Todd Ellerin, director of infectious diseases at South Shore Hospital, told ABC News. “And then make contact with a health care provider.”

Martin Finucane can be reached at