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Oral treatment for COVID: The game-changer


There have been a lot of game changers since COVID-19 began — including the virus itself, which has upended our way of life across the globe. For two years, we have been in a dead heat, racing against emerging variants, lining our tool kit with the most successful vaccine in human history, collectively postponing big life events to save the very lives we are meant to be celebrating — and so much more. How are we faring in this race? A look back helps define where we are, how far we have come and why what we do now matters.

The first game-changer and the most prolific is, of course, the ground-breaking mRNA vaccine. A remarkable medical wonder, years in the making, released seemingly overnight to prevent millions of hospitalizations and lives lost. If you haven’t gotten yours, please make sure to get your vaccine and stay up-to-date on your boosters. Second came at-home testing: the free, convenient way for everyone to confirm within minutes instead of days, whether they are positive for COVID-19. In addition to its vital role in mitigating viral spread, the swift response time gives a third game-changer its best chance at leveling the field: the mighty, the powerful, the must-be-taken-within-a-five-day-window pill that will likely keep you out of the hospital and may even save your life: the oral treatment.

Oral treatments, taken from the convenience of home, reduce our chance of severe outcomes from COVID-19, including hospitalization and death, by nearly 90 percent. What more needs to be said? But wait, there is more: Oral treatments can prevent our hospitals from being overrun during surges. I’m sure we can all agree the global medical staff has paid their collective dues. Now we can pay it forward by easily treating it with prescribed medication. That’s a game-changer.

You might be saying, sounds good, but who gets these oral treatments? Just those at risk for hospitalization or death? Well, yes and no. Yes, of course those at increased risk for severe outcomes qualify for oral treatment. But what constitutes a high risk individual? You may be surprised to know:

Anyone who is over 65, overweight, pregnant, has asthma, is a smoker, diabetic and more. So in fact, that means the majority of us here in New Mexico. The more qualifying conditions a person has, the more likely they’ll suffer severe outcomes. If this is you, the time is now to speak with your doctor about a plan for oral treatments.

Great. So how do we all get started? A positive test result is required, along with any COVID-19 symptom, even fatigue. A few options: The Department of Health has launched a resource to help you find a treatment. Test-to-treat locations offer both testing and treatment during the same visit. Since treatment needs to start within the five-day window of the first symptom, the value of one-stop shopping goes beyond convenience.

Another is at-home tests; quick results mean you’ll have the best chance at seeking treatment fast. If you don’t already have a handful of these tests at your house now, order some today at findatestnm.org.

I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating: As tired as we are of COVID-19, it is not tired of us. And it’s not done with us. But in this fight against such a formidable and evasive viral contender, there is good news. By using these game-changing tools, we become the game-changer ourselves.

You have that power; I urge you to use it just like one of my patients did Memorial Day 2022. She had a positive home test, is over 65 years old and has other risk factors. She texted me while I was out with my wife on a bike ride, and after we returned home I called her, verified her test result, symptoms and risk factors. Then I sent a prescription for oral treatment to her pharmacy. As I write this, she’s already taken her first dose.

And I’d like to thank all of you for your continued efforts to safeguard your fellow New Mexicans. I will continue to share all I can about the advancements we’re making and the tools we have to protect ourselves, our communities, our hospitals and each other. I believe the best is yet to come. COVID-19 may not be over, but we are stronger than ever and can reach that day in the hopefully not too-distant future, together.

The simple take away: Get vaccinated. Get tested. Get treated (right away).

Dr. David R. Scrase is acting Cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Department of Health.