Biden doubles U.S. order of Pfizer Covid treatment pills, speeds delivery as omicron rages

A Pfizer employee checks the boxes containing Paxlovid, COVID-19 treatment pills, at a distribution facility in Memphis, Tennessee, in this undated handout picture.

Pfizer | Reuters

President Joe Biden has ordered an additional 10 million courses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 treatment pill, doubling the U.S government’s purchase of the oral antiviral medication as the nation faces an unprecedented surge of new infections driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant.

With the new order, the U.S. has committed to purchase at least 20 million courses from Pfizer. The Biden administration is also speeding up delivery of the first 10 million treatment courses to June instead of September, according to the White House.

Pfizer, in a statement announcing the new U.S. order Tuesday, said the remaining 10 million courses will be shipped by the end of September.

The White House said the pills take time to manufacture and the U.S. is receiving them as soon as they come off the production line, according to a statement. The U.S. will provide any resources, including using the Defense Production Act, to support Pfizer during the manufacturing process, according to the White House.

Biden is scheduled to meet with the White House Covid-19 response team Tuesday afternoon and will update the nation on his plan to fight omicron as it sweeps across the nation, driving new infections to a pandemic high.

The U.S. recorded more than 1 million new infections on Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The record single-day total could be due in part to a delay in reporting over the holiday weekend, when a number of states did not publish new cases.

However, the seven-day average of new infections also hit a record high at more than 480,000, nearly double the previous week, according to a CNBC analysis of the data from Hopkins.

Pfizer’s treatment, Paxlovid, was 89% effective at preventing hospitalization and death from Covid in a study of more than 2,000 high risk adults, according to the company.

The Food and Drug Administration cleared the treatment in December for patients 12 and older with mild to moderate Covid who are at the highest risk of hospitalization or death. The treatment is available by prescription only and should be administered twice daily for five days.

Paxlovid is administered as three pills, two nirmatrelvir tablets and one tablet of ritonavir. Nirmatrelvir blocks an enzyme the virus needs to replicate while ritonavir, a popular HIV drug, helps slow the patient’s metabolism to allow Pfizer’s pill to remain active in the body longer to fight the virus.

The treatment could help alleviate strain on health-care systems by keeping people, particularly those who are unvaccinated, out of hospitals as Covid cases continue to surge.

About 98,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid-19, according to a seven-day average of data from the Department of Health and Human Services as of Jan. 3, up 32% from a week ago.

— CNBC’s Nate Rattner contributed to this report.