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Antiviral COVID pill shouldn't replace vaccine, doctors say

In "Test to Treat", patients who get tested for COVID will immediately get free pills to treat it if they test positive.

SAN ANTONIO — Patients who get tested for COVID will immediately get free pills to treat it if they test positive. That's the concept for President Biden's Test to Treat initiative.

RELATED: White House unveils new COVID preparedness plan to combat future variants

Some San Antonio area pharmacies are ready to give out the potentially life-saving drug.

It's a move that doctors say will ease the burden on local hospitals.

But doctors warn, the pill is still no substitute for the vaccine.

RELATED: Biden doubling purchase of Pfizer COVID-19 pills, US order up to 20 million

Participating CVS clinics and Walgreens pharmacies nationwide are getting their first round of anti-viral COVID pills.

"We're gonna get a really, really big bonus from having oral treatment at this particular time," said Dr. Fred C. Campbell Jr., Associate Professor of Medicine at UT Health San Antonio.

Dr. Campbell has experience working with pharmacies and minute clinics. He's helping KENS 5 address some common concerns about this new Test to Treat initiative.

One concern: Should patients feel comfortable being prescribed the pill?

"Pfizer and Moderna and some of the other makers of these anti-COVID pills are doing the right thing and have a very, very effective and safe product," said Campbell.

Campbell says questions about a patient's medical history will always be addressed before prescribing medication.

RELATED: Insurers must now reimburse for at-home COVID tests. But there's a catch.

"There are very good people and folks that can be competent and deliver that kind of diagnostic and therapeutic performance, regardless of what setting they're in," said Campbell. "Having urgent care and other facilities evaluate and manage the patients that are not critically ill or not having symptoms that would suggest respiratory failure is going to be a tremendous assistance to our health care system."

Not everybody will need the pill.

"Young, healthy people do very well, particularly those that are vaccinated," Campbell explained. "In fact, it's the non-vaccinated population that's going to be the highest risk."

Campbell says it's not too late to get the vaccine to protect yourself. What you don't want to do, he says, is replace the shot with the pill.

"To use treatments like this as a substitute for vaccination is, in my opinion, a real big mistake," said Campbell. "If we were to get to 90-95% vaccinated, we just really wouldn't have this kind of a problem. We wouldn't have to be dealing with these urgent health care needs as much."

All 1,200 CVS MinuteClinics are participating in the Test to Treat program. You can find the list at MinuteClinic.com.

Walgreens hasn't shared details with us yet, so call the pharmacy before you try to take advantage of the COVID pill treatment.

A Test to Treat website that has a list of every participating location is set to launch by the end of the month. 

In a statement to KENS 5, CVS Health adds, "Patients experiencing COVID-19 symptoms that are not in an area where MinuteClinic is located should speak to their PCP or other medical provider about the best way to diagnose and treat their symptoms. Most CVS Pharmacy locations in Texas without an associated MinuteClinic are also able to dispense active prescriptions from a health care provider."