Time to prep for future COVID waves – The San Francisco Examiner



San Francisco health officials are urging high-risk residents to make a game plan now for how and when to access time-sensitive COVID-19 treatments ahead of future surges.

“COVID-19 medicines can save lives and are important tools we can use to protect people who are medically vulnerable, but we must be prepared to get them to people quickly,” said San Francisco Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip. “This is one of the ways we can be prepared for COVID, as this virus will be with us for some time to come.”

Since the omicron surge, the supply of COVID-19 therapies has vastly improved for oral antiviral pills such as Paxlovid and monoclonal antibodies, which are administered intravenously and require observation by a clinician.

“We have a lot more supply than demand right now,” said Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease expert at UCSF. “People just don’t know how to get access to it. It’s not available in every drug store; it’s still kind of a mystery.”

As of Thursday, UCSF had 250 courses of Paxlovid and about 80 monoclonal antibody treatments available, Chin-Hong said.

Other therapy centers such as Total Infusion in Oakland are also stocked up with supplies, which can expire if not used within 12 to 18 months.

It’s a significant change from just a couple of months ago when treatment centers were struggling to keep up with patient requests during the omicron wave.

“We have an abundance (of COVID antibody treatments), so much so that I declined some the other day,” said Kee Conti, director of Total Infusion, which administers monoclonal antibodies and other infusion treatments in East Oakland. As of Thursday, the clinic had around 250 courses of the monoclonal antibody drug called bebtelovimab.

The future of COVID may be uncertain, but health experts say preparation is key to moving forward safely and confidently. Here’s what else you may need to know.

Am I eligible for COVID-19 therapies? A person is eligible for COVID-19 treatment after testing positive if they are immunocompromised, over the age of 65, unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, pregnant or are at a higher risk of severe illness due to other medical conditions, according to state and federal guidelines.

How quickly should I get treated? Timing is key, and getting tested as soon as symptoms appear is critical to successful treatment. Results are best among patients who begin treatment within three to five days of showing symptoms, which can include a runny nose, fever, cough, difficulty breathing and loss of taste or smell.

Which COVID-19 medicines are currently available? COVID-19 medicines that are now available include the oral antiviral pill Paxlovid, which has shown to be 89% effective, and Molnupiravir, which is closer to 30% effective.

For individuals with the highest risk of severe illness, such as organ transplant recipients or people who take medications to suppress their immune system, another option is a preventative medicine called Evusheld.

People should check whether their current medications could negatively interact with drugs like Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, the latter of which should not be taken when pregnant or breastfeeding.

Monoclonal antibodies, an infusion-based treatment that typically requires visiting a hospital or clinic for injection, are also available at hospitals and some Bay Area health clinics. The monoclonal antibody medicine bebtelovimab has been approved to treat the BA.2 omicron variant, now the dominant variant in the Bay Area.

Remdesivir, another therapy that involves a three-day intravenous infusion process, also has been approved.

Where can I get COVID-19 medicines? San Franciscans who test positive for COVID-19 and are at a high risk of severe illness should first reach out to their health provider, who is required by the local health authority to test people within a day of reporting symptoms.

A map of Bay Area pharmacies that carry COVID-19 medicines is available from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which can be found at https://covid-19-therapeutics-locator-dhhs.hub.arcgis.com/. More locations are expected to open in the coming months, according to a press release from SFDPH.

Mission Wellness Pharmacy at 2424 Mission St. offers COVID-19 treatments. Appointments can be scheduled by calling (415) 826-3484. San Francisco Health Network also is accepting appointments for its members and can be reached at (415) 682-1740.

A list of other private and public health care options and where to find treatment can be found at https://sf.gov/get-treated-covid-19.

For Total Infusion, eligible patients who test positive can make an appointment, without a doctor’s referral, on the clinic website at https://totalinfusion.com/.

How else can I prepare for a future COVID wave? Chin-Hong offers five tips to stay ready and flexible for when COVID cases begin rising again:

  1. Keep up on COVID data and news so surges don’t come as a surprise. “Look at COVID numbers like the weather report,” Chin-Hong said.
  2. Fill up on items such as masks, at-home COVID test kits, tissues and cleaning supplies while cases and demand is low.
  3. Get vaccinated, boosted and stay up to date on shots recommended for your risk level.
  4. Know how to access COVID-19 therapies like Paxlovid and monoclonal antibody treatments.
  5. Replenish your medicine cabinet with decongestants, ibuprofen and other remedies for more mild COVID-19 symptoms.

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