FLORENCE, S.C. (WBTW) – A Walgreens in Florence has filled more prescriptions for monoclonal antibody and antiviral therapeutic COVID-19 treatments than any other pharmacy in the state, according to federal data.
The Walgreens at 1500 S. Irby St. in Florence has filled at least 1,656 prescriptions for molnupiravir, an oral antiviral medication. Coming in second is a Walgreens in Anderson, which filled 1,128 prescriptions for molnupiravir and 340 for Paxlovid.
Not only did the Florence pharmacy administer the most prescriptions for the treatment in the state, but Florence County pharmacies have filled the second-highest number of prescriptions for the treatments in South Carolina, according to healthdata.gov. In first was Charleston County, with 3,434 prescriptions, then Florence County at 2,818, and Anderson County with 2,774.
Florence County has about 137,000 residents, according to the Census. It has seen more than 41,600 COVID-19 cases, according to the most recent information from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
About 30,500 prescriptions for the treatments have been filled statewide.
McLeod Health, which has a facility in Florence, has administered more than 8,450 outpatient monoclonal antibody infusions across its system for COVID-19 since treatments began gaining emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November 2020, according to the health organization.
“Our health system really embraced it and used it as a way to help the community, save lives and keep people out of the hospital and preserve our hospital capacity,” said Jenna Swindler, a pharmacist and the associate vice president of care transformation at McLeod Health.
Monoclonal antibody treatments, which have been around in some form since the 1970s, are proteins made in a lab that mimic the body’s ability to battle viruses. The antibodies target the spike proteins on COVID-19 to prevent the virus from attaching to and entering cells.
The treatments are targeted at the at-risk community to prevent those infected with COVID-19 from having to be admitted to a hospital.
It is the only outpatient treatment for people who are at risk of developing a severe case of the virus, according to Swindler. That population includes the elderly and immunocompromised.
“We feel like we were able to prevent a pretty hefty number of hospitalizations in those first few surges, particularly,” she said.
That change, in turn, kept hospitalization rates during spikes at a manageable level.
By the time the omicron variant began to surge, Swindler said that patients knew about the treatments – and some had used them before when they were infected with other variants.
“We saw a really large demand for monoclonal antibody infusions during the omicron surge,” she said.
That surge was also the first time that other treatment options became available. The oral treatment, Swindler said, is just as effective as monoclonal antibody treatments, only instead of three-hour infusions at a facility, patients take the pills for five days.
And unlike receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, patients were more willing to pursue the treatments.
“People were seeking it as an option, which was a little shocking to us, because of the vaccine hesitancy, but there was very little hesitancy in wanting to get an option for treatment once a patient was infected,” she said.
About 62.5% of all eligible South Carolina residents have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 53.9% have completed vaccination, according to DHEC.
Increased media coverage and success stories, she said, also led to more people asking for the treatments.
Specific pharmacies across the state were allocated by the government to fulfill the prescriptions, according to Swindler. After the Florence Walgreens site, she said that the closest option to get a prescription fulfilled for the treatments was in Hartsville.
Statewide, the large majority of the prescriptions were filled at Walgreens pharmacies.
“As we have throughout the pandemic, Walgreens remains committed to providing our patients access to the COVID-19 services and medications they need, administering more than 60 million vaccines and 26 million tests and, more recently, dispensing COVID-19 oral antivirals to eligible individuals, including those in South Carolina,” a statement from a company spokesperson to News13 reads. “Our pharmacists and pharmacies have played an essential role in response to COVID-19 and stand ready to support in the timely and accessible delivery of COVID-19 treatments to patients.”
A February study from the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health emphasizes the need to provide the treatments in rural communities, which already have an uphill battle in providing enough health facilities to a population that tends to be older and less healthy than that in urban areas. Poverty is perhaps the greatest struggle, and the patients tend not to show up to a hospital until the impacts become severe.
Telehealth is also difficult, because many rural areas don’t have access to high-speed internet.
“With less funding and staffing, a sicker general population, and, often, a larger geographical area in which to provide services, rural health systems are often not equipped nor staffed to deal with the extreme demands of a global pandemic,” the study reads.
Treatments are available in pharmacies in 33 of the state’s 46 counties. No pharmacies in Marion or Marlboro counties have filled the prescriptions, according to federal data.
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