Need Paxlovid for Covid? New Yorkers are supposed to have access, but that isn’t always so. Here’s what I found out.

Filed Under: Patients

A woman coughs on her couch.

I tested positive for Covid-19 on May 4, 2022, after getting the virus from my roommate. She tested positive on April 28, four days after she began experiencing sinus infection-like symptoms, and after a previously negative at-home test. It took me six days, seven tests (a couple rapids, two PCRs, and three at-homes) to finally test positive—and I did so only after the worst of my symptoms were already over.

While I thankfully experienced only the symptoms of a bad sinus infection, I wanted to explore my antiviral medication eligibility. According to the city, drugs like Pfizer’s Paxlovid, which can be taken as pills or injections, are supposed to lessen symptoms and keep people out of hospitals.

My Manhattan CVS carries Paxlovid, and you need a doctor’s prescription to get the drug. But how do you go about getting it? I don’t currently have a general practitioner, so I had to find another route.

“PSA to all: If you cannot get Paxlovid through your GP, try calling 212-Covid19, the city hotline for getting Paxlovid,” one New Yorker wrote in an online group. “I called them at 7pm on a weeknight and it took me about an hour to get through their decision tree/screening interviews but they sent a prescription through that night and had it delivered to my door within 24 hours and God bless them for that.”

New York Paxlovid eligibility rules

Armed with this information, I called NYC Health & Hospitals at 212-268-4319 to be connected to a doctor through Virtual ExpressCare. After being on hold for about 30 minutes, I connected with a representative and gave my verbal consent to being evaluated over telehealth. I received a text with a link that converted our phone call to a video call, and then connected with a doctor. I learned that to be eligible for Paxlovid, you must

  1. Call to have the drug delivered within 5 days of developing Covid symptoms and testing positive
  2. Have a comorbidity that makes developing severe Covid more likely
  3. Not be on a medication that is unsafe to combine with Paxlovid

If you develop symptoms early on but don’t test positive for days later, like I did, you’re ineligible for the drug.

The doctor recommended that anyone interested in taking Paxlovid look to the Centers for Disease Control website for eligibility requirements as well. Based on these criteria I was ineligible — despite the city’s claims that the drug is available for anyone who needs it. And I’m far from the only person experiencing this issue.

My colleague Virginia Jeffries told me that her grandmother and father, who both live in Pennsylvania, both got Covid recently. Jeffries’s search for Paxlovid for her dad was informed by her grandmother’s experience in asking for the drug too late in the course of her illness — and not being able to get it. Jeffries’ grandmother, Ellen, is 87 and experienced more severe symptoms, but is recovering now. (She spoke on condition that we not use her last name.) Ellen said that her doctor mentioned she shouldn’t bother taking Paxlovid if she was already through the worst of her symptoms.

Before Drew Jeffries took his first at-home test on Friday, May 13, Virginia Jeffries, who lives in New York City, called his doctor and was told to call the practice’s on-call doctor over the weekend if the test turned up positive.

“My experience with that practice is that it’s not lightning fast,” Jeffries said. And after her grandmother’s experience, “I wanted to be better, I wanted to be safe.” So Virginia called the doctor back, said her dad had tested positive, and was referred to one Walgreens that carries Paxlovid. Not every pharmacy in Drew Jeffries’s area of Pittsburgh carries the drug.

But the Walgreens that did have Paxlovid closed at 6 P.M. that day, so Virginia and her mother had to call several others to find one that closed later. After an “ordeal,” Virginia said, her mom was able to secure the drug for her dad.

Paxlovid adventures on Twitter

People have taken to Twitter to lay out their Paxlovid acquisition experiences, too.

“This is what it’s like to get Paxlovid (if you’re lucky),” Diana Zicklin Berrent explained in a thread about her experience getting Paxlovid for her 15-year-old child. “Moral(s) of the story: Unless I was a doctor I couldn’t have had better access to Paxlovid. I was determined and wouldn’t take no for an answer, knowing kid qualified. I was unrelenting (and privileged).”

Berrent, founder of the Covid support group Survivor Corps, is based in Washington, D.C., but her experience mirrors those of many New Yorkers sharing theirs on the internet (although some patients have had success acquiring Paxlovid). According to Mark D. Levine, the Manhattan Borough President, many people who qualify for Paxlovid don’t know about it, which is a primary barrier to treatment.