New York Department of Health prioritizes nonwhites for COVID-19 pills, calling race a risk factor

"Supplies of oral antivirals will be extremely limited initially," says memo to healthcare providers and facilities.

Updated: December 31, 2021 - 4:22pm

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Citing the "significant surge in cases and reduced effectiveness of existing therapeutics due to the omicron variant," the New York Department of Health is directing healthcare providers and facilities to consider race and ethnicity in deciding who gets Pfizer and Merck COVID-19 treatment pills.

"Supplies of oral antivirals will be extremely limited initially, and there is now only one monoclonal antibody product that is effective for treatment of infection caused by the omicron variant," according to the department's Dec. 27 announcement.

Paxlovid and molnupiravir were authorized under emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration to treat "mild-to-moderate" COVID cases in people "at high risk for progression to severe disease, regardless of vaccination status."

But the current limited supply means providers must prioritize the highest-risk patients for severe COVID, the department said.

"Non-white race or Hispanic/Latino ethnicity should be considered a risk factor, as longstanding systemic health and social inequities have contributed to an increased risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19," according to the department. Other eligibility requirements include age, weight and medical condition.

The New York City Department of Health is limiting distribution of oral antivirals in the city to the pharmacy delivery service Alto until supplies increase, the state department said.