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Arkansas pharmacists disappointed in President Biden's 'test-to-treat' plan

Local pharmacists said a major barrier is preventing people from getting the COVID treatments they need.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — This week pharmacists across the country, including here in Arkansas, sent President Biden a letter expressing their concern over his test-to-treat COVID initiative he announced in his State of the Union address. 

Local pharmacists said a major barrier is preventing people from getting the treatment they need. 

Basically, what the President's initiative does is allow people to be tested for COVID in a pharmacy and then be prescribed the antiviral pills at that same location. 

Except for John Vinson, with the Arkansas Pharmacists Association, who said while that may be possible in states like California or New York, it's not possible in Arkansas.

"Every roadblock in place that prevents a patient from receiving these therapies as early as possible could be a life loss or hospitalization that could have been prevented," he said.

Right now there's a pretty big roadblock for Arkansas pharmacists to give patients these pills, according to Vinson, since the FDA blocked their ability to prescribe them.

"That's the first time in my 20 year career, that I know of, that the FDA has ever interfered with scope of practice in the ability for a state to decide how best to deliver care," he said.

What was already disappointing for Vinson only escalated when President Biden announced his new plan. 

He said while it sounded good on television, it doesn't work for our state.

"These one-stop-shops where there's a clinic and pharmacy under the same roof is common in some urban areas and other parts of the country. It is not common in Arkansas," Vinson said.

For Daniel Cate, it's confusing, since pharmacies like his, Market Place Pharmacy in Little Rock, have become the hub for everything COVID.

"So if I'm testing, I shouldn't have to really outsource the solution to the results of a positive test for a patient," he said.

Most of the time, Cate said, it can take up to a day to get some patients a prescription, which is why the barrier makes time more limited for a drug you have to take quickly.

"If both the prescribing and the dispensing was in the hands of a pharmacy, it would just allow to kind of close that gap," he said.

The anti-viral pills are the most effective if taken within five days of initial symptoms, which is why time is so limited. 

Vinson said the FDA is the deciding factor in all of this and they're hopeful the restrictions will be lifted. 

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