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Higgins presses feds to include community-based pharmacies in free COVID-19 testing program


Wed, Nov 24th 2021 10:40 am

Congressman says expanded sites are needed to meet demand created by border testing policy & rising wave of cases

√ To plan for future, Higgins also wants neighborhood pharmacies included in distribution of COVID antiviral drugs 

Congressman Brian Higgins is asking the Biden administration to make community pharmacies partners in the federal government’s COVID-19 testing and antiviral drug distribution programs. 

To make low or no-cost COVID-19 testing accessible to all Americans, the federal government arranged for testing services to be available at select sites nationwide, including retail pharmacies Rite Aid, CVS and Walgreens. 

The White House has discussed plans to expand the number of pharmacies participating in the HHS testing program. In a letter to the secretary of health and human services, Higgins asks for community pharmacies to be included among the sites added, writing, “Independent pharmacies play a key role as trusted providers in the communities they serve. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, independent pharmacies have faced barriers to participating in the kinds of partnerships HHS has cultivated with large national pharmacy chains to provide free COVID-19 testing at their locations. This places independent pharmacies at a distinct disadvantage and reduces the options for free testing in their communities.”

The demand for testing has increased as members of the public seek to protect themselves and those around them from exposure in schools, workplaces or the community. The congressman also points to the growing number of people seeking tests in border communities due to Canadian testing requirements at land ports of entry.

Higgins said, “The demand for free, rapidly accessible COVID-19 testing will continue as long as the threat posed by the pandemic to our everyday lives refuses to abate. This issue has added emphasis in Western New York, as Canada is requiring all travelers to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test for entry. The busiest travel season of the year is almost here, and as a result, more Americans are likely to seek testing than ever before and after they travel during the holidays. These tests can be expensive, and few people can afford to regularly spend hundreds of dollars each and every time they wish to cross the border.”

Planning ahead, Higgins is also asking for COVID-19 antiviral medications to be available to the public through neighborhood pharmacies. 

“I write to you today regarding the Biden Administration’s recent purchase of 10 million treatment courses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral drug, Paxlovid,” Higgins wrote in a separate letter to White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients. “The anticipated approval of this drug, along with that of molnupiravir, a similar antiviral treatment developed by Merck, is undoubtedly a hopeful step forward in ending the COVID-19 pandemic, and I urge the Administration to quickly issue additional information and guidance to pharmacies on how they can access the federal supply of these antiviral treatments. I would also urge the Administration to take steps to ensure the network of entities that can distribute these products is as broad as possible, including independent, community-based pharmacies.

“As COVID-19 test positivity rates increase and cases and hospitalizations once again begin to rise across the country in advance of this holiday season, this treatment represents a valuable tool in our expanding arsenal to save lives and end this pandemic. We must make sure that it is made available and is accessible to those who need it regardless of the type of pharmacy they have in their community.”

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