Michigan gets initial small shipment of COVID-19 pills

LANSING — Michigan has received an initial, small federal shipment of COVID-19 pills that can be taken at home, state health officials said Friday.

The arrival of the newly authorized oral medications comes as the state confronts record-high coronavirus cases and near-peak hospitalizations amid a surge fueled by the omicron variant. The pills cleared federal approvals over two weeks ago and only can be obtained with a prescription.

The first allocation includes 7,080 courses of Merck’s molnupiravir and 1,600 courses of Pfizer’s Paxlovid. Paxlovid is likely to become the first-choice treatment against the virus because of its superior benefits and milder side effects.

Pfizer’s pills initially will be distributed by 10 Meijer pharmacies in the hardest-hit areas of three regions that include the Detroit area, Thumb, the Bay region and some counties north of there.

“This is a scarce medical resource,” state health department spokesperson Lynn Sutfin said.

Merck’s pills will be distributed by Meijer and other pharmacies.

The antivirals have to be taken as soon as possible once symptoms appear. They are intended for those with mild or moderate COVID who are more likely to become seriously ill.

The state Department of Health and Human Services released strict eligibility criteria, initially covering the moderately to severely immunocompromised or people who are at least 75 and not fully vaccinated with a booster shot.

“It’s important to remember these drugs are not a substitution for protecting yourself by getting vaccinated and wearing a mask in public places,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, the department’s chief medical executive.

Michigan on Friday recorded case counts that shattered a previous high, reporting more than 20,000 a day. The number of hospitalized adults with confirmed infections — most of them unvaccinated — rose to roughly 4,400, about 100 short of the all-time peak from December. The health department reported 259 additional deaths.

The state said the federal government granted a request for staffing assistance at a fifth hospital, Henry Ford in Wyandotte. The 30-member team will start treating patients Monday for 14 days.

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