Close Up Of Pills Pouring Out Of A Prescription Medication Bottle; Image credit: Getty Images

The United States has doubled its order of the newly approved antiviral COVID-19 pill Paxlovid to 20 million treatment courses, drugmaker Pfizer has announced.

The availability of Paxlovid, the first oral medication authorized for the treatment of at-risk patients with COVID-19, has been eagerly awaited by long-term care physicians, and is expected to help reduce hospitalizations and deaths. But analysts already predict that overall demand for the drug will outstrip supply.

The government’s original purchase of 10 million Paxlovid treatment courses has been accelerated for delivery by the end of June, Pfizer said. Supply is expected to be limited at first and will be “ramping up steadily in the months ahead,” according to the Department of Health and Human Services. An additional 10 million courses, newly purchased, will be distributed by the end of September, Pfizer stated.

State and territorial health departments will be responsible for allocating the vaccines. Distributors will provide the product directly to recipients including pharmacies, doctors’ offices and clinics, the Department of Health and Human Services has announced.

In the near term, a shipment of 65,000 courses was expected to arrive at state and territorial dispensing sites by the end of December. And an additional 200,000 courses are scheduled to ship in January, the agency said.

The news comes shortly after federal health authorities halted allocations of the key monoclonal antibody treatments that long-term care clinicians have relied on to prevent severe COVID-19 illness in vulnerable residents.