Midsection of female doctor with swab test sample during COVID-19 crisis. Female medical professional is holding test tube in hospital. She is wearing protective suit.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the distinction between the Test to Treat Initiative and the Long-Term Care Partner Program.

Long-term care facilities will soon be able to receive expedited distribution of COVID-19 antiviral pills as part of a new federal program, according to officials.

President Joe Biden unveiled the plans in his state of the union address on Tuesday. The goal is to allow Americans free COVID-19 rapid tests and quick access treatments at one-stop retail pharmacy locations and in congregate settings such as long-term care facilities starting this month, he said. 

The Test to Treat Initiative and the Long-Term Care Partner Program are keys element of the Biden administration’s National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan (NCPP), which was released Wednesday.

Along with increasing the supply of COVID-19 tests, the administration has also sped up the development, manufacturing and procurement of COVID-19 treatments, “building a diverse medicine cabinet filled with more treatments now than at any point in the pandemic,” the White House said in an accompanying statement.  

The aim is to keep a range of protections against SARS-CoV-2 in place, so that Americans can go about their daily lives with the least pandemic restrictions, Biden said. 

Antivirals on demand

The treatment aspect of the initiative focuses on monoclonal antibodies and two U.S.-authorized antiviral pills, Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s molnupiravir. These medications must be taken within days of COVID-19 symptom onset — and so must be immediately available. The Long-Term Care Partner Program will ensure that long-term care facilities have a process in place to swiftly procure the antiviral pills when needed, according to the NCPP.

The Long-Term Care Partner Program will allow facilities to order oral antivirals directly from a federal stockpile through their long-term care pharmacy partners, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. This effectively reestablishes the federal ordering portal originally available for monoclonal antibodies prior to the fall of 2021, industry advocates said.

COVID-19 antiviral pills were in short supply at the beginning of 2022. But the U.S. government has locked down millions of Paxlovid courses to be gradually delivered as they are produced throughout the year. One million courses are available in March, according to health officials. While Paxlovid has been shown to reduce the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization or death by 89%, molnupiravir is only recommended for use when that drug and other authorized treatments are not available.

Among effective monoclonal antibodies, the most recently authorized is the Eli Lilly drug Bebtelovimab, which is already being distributed nationally, according to the White House’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, M.D. 

“This powerful medicine works against all the variants that we’ve tested it against,” he said in a Wednesday press briefing.

The preventive drug Evusheld, meanwhile, offers an option for immunocompromised patients who may not receive adequate protection from vaccines and who are at high risk of severe COVID-19. The drug is the first prophylactic, injectable monoclonal antibody U.S.-authorized for use in these patients. Federal officials boosted stockpiles of Evusheld in February.

Read more coverage of the National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.