WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to buy 10 million courses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral pill as regulators weigh whether to clear the medication, which has been found to greatly reduce hospitalizations and deaths from the coronavirus, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
The federal government initially planned to buy 5 million courses of the treatment — a course requires a patient to take two pills over five days — but President Joe Biden told officials to double the number after having seen how effective the treatment was in data Pfizer released this month, the source said, adding that the contract hasn’t been finalized.
The deal, along with another one worth $2.2 billion to buy more than 3 million doses of another antiviral pill to treat Covid, would give the U.S. another tool to fight the pandemic, and it could largely benefit those who remain unvaccinated, given that they are at significantly greater risk of hospitalization or death.
Data released so far have detailed treatment only for people who are unvaccinated, and it is unclear whether the Food and Drug Administration would also approve the drugs for people who are vaccinated.
Even with about 70 percent of adults having been fully vaccinated, new case numbers are rising as the weather grows colder in Northern states. Public health officials have begun to warn that another surge could be coming.
Pfizer asked the FDA to allow its pill to begin to be used to treat the virus on Tuesday, and regulators will meet later this month to review the other treatment, from Merck.
Pfizer said its new treatment reduced hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent in high-risk people. It must be taken within three days of the onset of symptoms, which requires access to quick test results.
It will take time for the U.S. to get all those doses. Pfizer has said it expects to have only enough pills to treat 100,000 to 200,000 patients this year.
The U.S. will have an option to buy 2 million more courses of Merck's treatment, enough to treat 15 million people between the two drugmakers.