Americans who live in the nation’s most socially and economically disadvantaged communities were half as likely as those in wealthier areas to be prescribed new oral anti-viral medications for Covid in recent months, even though a large number of sites that dispense the drugs are in those areas, a study found.
The new study, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, examined more than a million prescriptions that were dispensed for the new anti-viral drugs, Lagevrio and Paxlovid, between Dec. 23, 2021, and May 21, 2022. Researchers analyzed the prescriptions by ZIP code, classifying the geographic areas as zones of low, medium or high social vulnerability.
In areas of high social vulnerability, prescriptions were dispensed at half the rate as in ZIP codes classified as medium or low-social vulnerability, they found.
The disparity occurred despite the fact that about half the sites capable of dispensing the drugs were located in the disadvantaged areas, which are home to roughly half the nation’s residents, the study reported.
The reasons for the disparities were not clear, but patients who want to avail themselves of anti-viral drugs must first test positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and then be seen by a health care provider who can prescribe the medication; the dispensing sites do not have on-site providers who can prescribe the drugs.
Many residents in disadvantaged areas may have trouble seeing a doctor or physician assistant who can prescribe the medication, the study’s authors said. One solution might be to facilitate access to testing, clinical assessment and medication in a single visit, the authors suggested.
Cost may also be a barrier, the paper noted, as a federal program that reimbursed uninsured individuals for the costs of testing, seeing a health care provider and medication ended on March 22.
Another C.D.C. study issued on Tuesday highlighted the effectiveness of the medications. An analysis of data from a large health care system in California found that of more than 5,000 people prescribed Paxlovid for mild to moderate Covid, fewer than one percent required hospital or emergency room care. Only six hospitalizations and 39 emergency department visits related to Covid occurred within five to 15 days after use of the drug, the study found.