Pharmacists can prescribe the  leading COVID-19 pill directly to patients under a new U.S. policy  announced Wednesday that’s intended to expand use of Pfizer’s drug  Paxlovid

The Food and Drug Administration said pharmacists can begin screening  patients to see if they are eligible for Paxlovid and then prescribe the  medication

which has been shown to curb the worst effects of COVID-19. Previously only physicians could prescribe the antiviral drug.

The announcement comes as COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths  are rising again, though they remain near their lowest levels since the  coronavirus outbreak began in 2020.

Biden administration officials have expressed frustration that several  hundred Americans continue to die of COVID-19 daily, despite the  availability of vaccines and treatments.

Administration officials have been working for months to increase access  to Paxlovid, opening thousands of sites where patients who test  positive can fill a prescription for Paxlovid.

The FDA change will make thousands more pharmacies eligible to quickly  prescribe and dispense the pill, which must be used early to be  effective.

axlovid is intended for people with COVID-19 who are more likely to become seriously ill.

It isn’t recommended for patients with severe kidney or liver problems.  A course of treatment is three pills twice a day for five days.

Belcher, owner of the independent Grants Pass Pharmacy, said she used to  test and treat for COVID-19 using injectable drugs that are no longer  as effective.