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State offering free telehealth option for residents to gauge their eligibility for COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid

Boxes of Pfizer's Paxlovid antiviral medication in a warehouse in Shoham, Israel.Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg

The Baker administration on Wednesday launched a telehealth program to help Massachusetts residents determine their eligibility for the COVID-19 treatment pill Paxlovid.

In a statement, the Executive Office of Health and Human Services said the program, launched in collaboration with the group Color Health, allows residents aged 18 and older who’ve tested positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms to have a video consultation with a trained clinician to determine if they’re eligible for Paxlovid, a pill that can reduce the risk of severe symptoms and hospitalization by nearly 90 percent.

The statement said residents can access the program online at www.mass.gov/covidtelehealth, with service available in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and Portuguese.

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“Paxlovid has been shown to be highly effective in treating COVID-19 and can prevent patients from getting seriously ill,” Dr. Larry Madoff, medical director in the Bureau of Infectious Disease and Laboratory Sciences at the state Department of Public Health, said in the statement. “This treatment must be started within 5 days of symptoms, so it is essential to speak with a clinician right away. This new telehealth option makes it easier for residents to connect quickly with a clinician and we encourage individuals who test positive to utilize it.”

Residents don’t need health insurance to access the free program, the statement said.

Paxlovid, granted an emergency use authorization by federal regulators in late December, is an at-home treatment developed by Pfizer and prescribed at the first sign of infection to patients at high risk of serious COVID complications. The treatment consists of a series of three pills taken twice a day for five days.

The telehealth visit, officials added, includes a short intake survey and, if eligible, a video consultation with a health care provider.

During the visit, the statement said, the clinician will review the patient’s symptoms and risk factors, and determine if Paxlovid is appropriate. If it is, the provider will send a prescription to a pharmacy near the patient or, if necessary, arrange for free delivery of Paxlovid to the person’s home.

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The statement said Paxlovid’s intended for people age 12 and older with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at higher risk for severe COVID-19. Treatment must start as soon as possible after testing positive and within five days of symptom onset, according to the statement.

“Fortunately, we have reached a point in the pandemic where the tools to stay safe and healthy are much more widely available. Those include vaccines first and foremost,” Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, said in the statement.

“But now anyone who gets COVID and has even a single risk factor can and should also avail themselves of one of several highly effective treatments, including two oral antiviral medications, of which there is plentiful supply,” Doron continued. “It is important for the public to know that these treatments are safe and effective at reducing your risk of progressing to severe COVID-19.”

In its clinical trial, Pfizer, the pharmaceutical giant that manufactures Paxlovid, reported an 89 percent reduction in COVID-related hospitalization or death from any cause in patients who received Paxlovid within three days of symptoms, compared with patients who received a placebo.

The pills had initially been in short supply and hard to find for some but are more widely available now. Doctors have hailed the antiviral as an invaluable treatment, helping to keep vulnerable people from developing life-threatening complications.

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But some infectious disease specialists, while still extolling Paxlovid’s benefits, have expressed concern that the rebounds they are seeing and hearing about may indicate patients — after completing treatment and testing negative and then positive, again — may still be infectious and transmitting the virus to others.

Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.