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On April 26, Kirsten Allen, the press secretary for Vice President Kamala Harris, sent a tweet: “[T]oday, Vice President Harris tested positive for COVID-19 on rapid and PCR tests. She has exhibited no symptoms, will isolate and continue to work from the Vice President’s residence.” Later that day, Allen tweeted  that “after consultation with her physicians, the Vice President was prescribed and has taken Paxlovid.” Comments responding to the tweet ranged from “[s]omething that most of the rest of us can’t get” to “[s]he doesn’t meet criteria if she’s Asymptomatic.” What was clear from the thousands of responses to the tweet was the need for more education around Paxlovid, when it is prescribed, and how it is used to treat COVID-19. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact heavily on Black communities, especially Black workers

Dr. LaRon E. Nelson

In late December, 2021, the first shipment of Paxlovid, one of the antiviral medications available to treat COVID-19, was made available in limited quantities by the federal government to the states. With the current rise in COVID-19 cases, getting necessary information and treatment to those in need is paramount to stemming the new wave of COVID-19 cases. 

In an interview with the Amsterdam News, Dr. Torian Easterling, first deputy commissioner and chief equity officer for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, discussed the reasons why his department is so focused on antiviral medications generally and Paxlovid specifically. According to Easterling, Paxlovid is a pill that is taken for 5 days and it must be started within 5 days of testing positive for COVID-19. It is encouraged for those over 65, individuals who have diabetes, and those who are obese. 

Dr. Easterling pointed out the inequities faced by communities of color as one of many reasons for why the department is focusing on bringing resources such as Paxlovid and the vaccines to those communities. According to Easterling, “What we saw in the early part of the pandemic is that communities of color…had higher rates of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths…we wanted to make sure equity was centered in our approach.”

This sentiment was shared by Dr. LaRon E. Nelson, PhD, RN, associate dean for global affairs & planetary health at the Yale School of Nursing, who spoke with the AmNews about the antiviral medications, but also about the continued need for ensuring people are safeguarded from getting COVID-19 in the first place. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact heavily on Black communities, especially Black workers in industries [such as] warehouse delivery or transportation that require close frequent contact with the public. Boosters are essential for protecting against the emerging variants of the coronavirus; however, while first and second dose vaccine rates are high overall, the vaccine booster rates in New York are only hovering around 50% in the general population. As mask mandates are lifted even while subvariant stains are circulating, the risks remain high that Black folks, boosted and non-boosted, will [come] into contact with someone who has not…received a vaccine booster.”

According to the Department of Health, Paxlovid “can reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by up to 88% when taken within 5 days of symptoms starting.” They recommend that “every patient 12 and older, weighing at least 88 pounds, experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, and with at least one factor placing them at high risk for progression to severe disease should be offered treatment…” Antiviral medications to treat COVID-19 are available by prescription at several pharmacies in New York City, and can also be found at NYC Test to Treat locations where New Yorkers can both get tested and be prescribed treatment. 

Easterling confirmed that there is an “infrastructure set up for New Yorkers” to access Paxlovid and offered this final piece of advice: “Even though we have the antiviral pill, it is still important that people get vaccinated.”

If you have symptoms or test positive for COVID-19, you should speak with your healthcare provider or call 212-COVID19 (212-268-4319).

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