Health Care

Vermont pharmacies aren’t likely able to participate in test-to-treat after all

Note: This story is more than a week old. Given how quickly the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving, we recommend that you read our latest coverage here.

Pharmacy prescriptions
Montpelier Pharmacy, now owned by Kinney Drugs, is seen in 2014. Despite initial impressions, pharmacies in Vermont don’t meet the qualifications for participation in a new "test-to-treat" program after all. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden vowed to release a plan to combat Covid-19 that would include a “test-to-treat” program, where Americans could get tested at pharmacies and health centers and immediately begin antiviral treatment if they were positive for the virus.

But despite initial impressions, pharmacies in Vermont don’t meet the qualifications for participation after all, Department of Health Commissioner Mark Levine said at a recent press conference. 

Lauren Bode, a spokesperson for the Vermont Pharmacists Association, confirmed that fact with VTDigger. The pharmacies Biden mentioned are places that contain “minute clinics” or other medical providers on site — and “I don’t think there’s a single one” in Vermont, she said.

“There was some excitement to hear pharmacies being called out as a fix,” she said. But it’s “restricted to clinics like the CVS minute clinics, which are just colocated in pharmacies, not a part of it.”

She said she wasn’t sure why Vermont lacked those kinds of clinics, but it may be partly because it was a small state.

But she said it was a shame that Vermonters would be missing out on the opportunity, particularly because the small, rural state has seen challenges to accessing health care

“The health care we see in Vermont doesn’t meet our needs, and I would love to see expanded access through pharmacies,” she said.

The other half of the test-to-treat program is certain community health clinics, called Federally Qualified Health Centers, of which there are at least a dozen in Vermont. But clinics contacted by VTDigger said they weren’t able to share the details of the program yet, because they didn’t know them.

“We are waiting for our order of medications to arrive before we can start the program. We really can’t answer anything until the program gets going,” wrote Scott Fleishman, a spokesperson for Gifford Health Care, which operates several health centers.

Susan Noon, a spokesperson for the Bi-State Primary Care Association that represents health centers, said they didn’t know yet which programs may be participating. 

Vermonters can still access the two components of the test-to-treat program, but separately. They can buy self-administered antigen tests over the counter, get prescribed the test by a doctor, or get prescribed the test by certain pharmacies that have received a waiver to prescribe them, Bode said.

They can then get a prescription from a doctor for antiviral medication such as Paxlovid, which they can take to the pharmacy to be fulfilled. As of March, Paxlovid is only recommended for adults or children 12 and older who are considered high-risk for severe Covid and have mild to moderate symptoms.

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Erin Petenko

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