Biden says 250,000 treatment courses of Pfizer's antiviral pill will be available in January

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with his administration's Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force and private sector CEOs in the South Court Auditorium of the White House on December 22 in Washington, DC.

By Donald Judd, CNN

(CNN) -- President Joe Biden on Wednesday pledged more than 250,000 treatment courses of Pfizer's antiviral pill will be available starting in January after the US Food and Drug Administration authorized it to treat Covid-19.

"With today's action, we add the first-ever oral treatment to our nation's medicine cabinet and take a significant step forward in our path out of the pandemic," he added. "As soon as emerging science showed the promise of this antiviral, we acted quickly and aggressively to pre-purchase 10 million treatment courses -- more than any other country in the world."

He added, "We will have over 250,000 treatment courses available to us in January and we will be working with states to ensure those are being distributed equitably and fairly and that our hardest-hit communities are reached."

The US Food and Drug Administration earlier Wednesday authorized Paxlovid to treat Covid-19, making it the first antiviral Covid-19 pill authorized for ill people to take at home, before they get sick enough to be hospitalized.

High-risk individuals age 12 and older who weigh at least 88 pounds and have a positive SARS-CoV-2 test are eligible for the treatment and will need to have it prescribed by a doctor. The pill "should be initiated as soon as possible after diagnosis of Covid-19 and within five days of symptom onset," according to an FDA statement.

Paxlovid combines a new antiviral drug named nirmatrelvir and an older one called ritonavir and is administered as three pills given twice a day for five days. Last week, Pfizer released updated results that showed the treatment cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% if given to high-risk adults within a few days of their first symptoms. If given within the first five days of symptoms, the efficacy was similar: 88%.

Biden pledged "any resource needed" to ensure distribution, including using the Defense Production Act "if warranted."

White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters the treatment "dramatically reduces the risk of hospitalizations and deaths for those at risk."

"According to Pfizer, the complex chemistry involved in creating the active ingredient in the pill means production takes about six to eight months, so supply of this product will ramp up over the next several months," Zients said. "Knowing that these pills take time to manufacture, Pfizer continues to increase their production plans, and now that the pill is authorized, we'll have discussions to explore how we can help them improve their manufacturing capacity even further by providing any resources needed."

According to Zients, the 10 million treatment courses will be available by late summer.

"As quickly as Pfizer gets the pills manufactured and delivered, we will immediately provide them to states and jurisdictions for distribution," Zients told reporters, with a focus on equitable distribution according to need.

"We are not only urging states to ensure equity in their own distribution plans, but we are also distributing antivirals directly to community health centers across the country. This will help ensure these life-saving antivirals are available to the most vulnerable communities and hard-hit populations across the country."

This story has been updated with comments from Jeff Zients.

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