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Tennessee gets first shipment of oral antiviral COVID drugs

NASHVILLE — Tennessee has received its first shipments of oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19, the Tennessee Department of Health said on Thursday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an emergency use authorization for two oral COVID-19 treatments: Paxlovid by Pfizer and molnupiravir by Merck.

The U.S. government is buying the pills from Merck and Pfizer and providing them for free, but supplies are currently limited.

The first allocation of the drugs to Tennessee is 5,000 courses of molnupiravir and 1,000 courses of Paxlovid, according to the state Health Department. Tennessee should receive more of the two drugs as production increases in the coming weeks.

Early studies indicate the treatments may reduce severe outcomes from COVID-19 including hospitalization or death, but they must be taken as soon as possible once symptoms appear. The pills are intended for those with mild or moderate COVID-19 who are more likely to become seriously ill. That includes older people and those with other health conditions such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes that make them more vulnerable. Both pills were OK’d for adults; Paxlovid is authorized for children ages 12 and older.

The Tennessee Department of Health is coordinating with Walmart pharmacies to distribute the treatments. Both drugs require a prescription.

The new antiviral drugs come as Tennessee experiences a surge in new COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant. The state reported more than 10,000 new cases on Wednesday and 38 new deaths, bringing the total death toll in Tennessee to 20,776.

While antivirals may help treat COVID-19, vaccination is the best way to prevent infection, according to the Health Department.

(For answers to common questions about COVID, read the AP’s Viral Questions series at https://apnews.com/hub/viral-questions.)

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