BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Maryland is distributing 4,500 courses of FDA-authorized prescription pills intended to help high-risk COVID-19 patients ward off serious illness, the state Department of Health announced Friday.

Paxlovid, Pfizer’s antiviral drug, and Molnupiravir, Merck’s antiviral medicine, were recently authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use in patients with risk factors for serious disease caused by COVID-19.

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The medicines started arriving at pharmacies Thursday, and the state said it is working with clinics, pharmacies and long-term care facilities to distribute the medications statewide over the next two weeks.

While vaccines, booster shots and testing are considered the best defense against COVID-19, Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said, the medicines offer a potentially life-saving tool to those infected.

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“If any Marylander tests positive for COVID-19, they should speak right away with their health care provider to see if Paxlovid, or Molnupiravir are right for them,” he said.

Physicians statewide can prescribe the pills and direct patients to pharmacies that have the drugs in stock. Patients must consult a physician to find out whether the treatments are right for them before getting a prescription.

“It is important that people at risk of serious illness get tested or do an at-home test at the first sign of symptoms–whether they are vaccinated or not–so that they can get the best treatment available,” said Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services, Dr. Jinlene Chan. “These treatments need to be started within days of the onset of symptoms to be effective.”

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The state expects to receive more batches of the treatments starting in January.

CBS Baltimore Staff