This NYT opinion piece makes no sense to me. And I should know

Today, I read the title of Zeynep Tufekci’s opinion piece, “Covid Drugs Save Lives, but Americans Can’t Get Them,” with bewilderment.

I then read the piece. Then I read a number of the comments. I became more than bewildered; I became annoyed. And I’m going to tell you specifically why.

First, though, here’s a short bio of Zeynep Tufekci: “…a sociologist and a writer, and a columnist for The New York Times. Her work focuses on the social implications of new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data, as well as societal challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic using complex and systems-based thinking.”

She is not a physician.

Here is what she writes:

Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment developed by Pfizer, an American pharmaceutical company, is highly effective for reducing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients, as long as it is started early. This is especially important for elderly or immunocompromised people, since their immune systems are not as robust as others’ against viruses, even when vaccinated. In his State of the Union address, Biden announced a “test to treat” initiative to provide such pills on the spot in pharmacies when someone tests positive.

Tufekci then continues and criticizes the absence of such pharmacies in many parts of the country.

 A Kaiser Health News reporter spent three hours driving around Washington, D.C., before finding a pharmacy where testing was available and the drug was in stock — something we should not expect sick people to do. When trying to book appointments online in several states, the reporter was sometimes denied an in-person appointment after listing upper-respiratory symptoms and a positive coronavirus test, even though the point of the program is to treat people with respiratory illness so they don’t get sicker. Many places did not have any same-day appointments, a big obstacle for a drug that should be given as quickly as possible.

Then she informs us, correctly, that the drug can only be prescribed by a…

…medical doctor, advanced practice registered nurse or physician assistant, especially because it can interact harmfully with many other drugs. It cannot be prescribed by a pharmacist.

Why, then, is a researcher driving around DC looking for a pharmacist to prove the negative — that you can’t find a pharmacy where you can get the drug? No, you can’t. But it isn’t your burden to drive all over the place, looking for that pharmacy. Your physician knows those pharmacies.

The comments to the article were equally uninformed and darkly pessimistic about our medical system, especially Medicare.

Leaving the truly idiotic comments about Medicare aside — OK, I couldn’t resist getting to that at the end, in a series of P.S.s — I can straighten this out right now by my own experience and the information given to me by a thoroughly informed physician.

Because I have a chronic lung condition called bronchiectasis, I’ve been seeing a pulmonologist. She has prescribed some devices and medications and behavior which have helped me keep my lungs functioning without noticeable effort. My lungs, to give them credit, have cooperated, but then I am a very attentive and obedient patient.

As it happened, I had my annual appointment with Dr. Schultz a few weeks ago.

I’d read about Paxlovid with great interest. Since my lung condition began with an awful cold virus four years ago — before COVID — I have serious interest in not getting a cold, never mind COVID, so I wear a mask when in the subway and in stores or other locations where there are a crowd of people.

In light of my condition, I’d already gotten my second anti-COVID booster.

Paxlovid sounded like an excellent remedy for me to have, in case I started to get a cold, before it could morph into god knows what. Not breathing, for one thing.

So after my check-up, I asked Dr. Schultz if she could give me an Rx for Paxlovid, which I’d have on hand if symptoms showed up.

“I can’t,” she said, and explained why.

The drug can only be prescribed when those symptoms appear, not before, so patients can’t get crazy and take a drug they don’t need just because they have it on hand.

Thus, Paxlovid is mandated to be prescribed by physicians, not by patients themselves and not by pharmacists.

“But,” Dr. Shultz told me, “the way it works is, if you feel you’re getting sick, you call me,  and immediately I prescribe Paxlovid to one of a special set of pharmacies around the country which guarantee they keep the drug in stock, and they get the Rx to you by express delivery which reaches you the next day.”

Ah, I said. That makes a lot of sense.

And it does.

So forget all the bullshit handed out by non-scientists. If you’re anxious about COVID and its variants, never mind looking for a pharmacy. Get in touch with your physician and check up on her/his plans for prescribing Paxlovid.

P.S. If you are having trouble understanding Medicare, read their ample booklet which CMS sends you automatically, first, almost a year before you turn 65, and every single year in the early autumn, so that you can inform yourself about changes or new plans offered.

Government agencies like Medicare write their informative materials with exemplary clarity and care. A sixth grader could understand it. Maybe even a fifth grader.

If you’re crabbing because you don’t understand the Medicare booklet, you haven’t read it.

P.P.S. Why do you think the idea of Medicare for all is so popular, is such a rallying cry? Because Medicare works and is easy to understand.

P.P.P.S. Don’t confuse Medicare with the profit-making insurance companies which elbowed and bullied their way into the Medicare program via “Advantage Plans.” They are not Medicare; they feed off Medicare, like vampires.

P.P.P.P.S. That P.P.P.S. above is my personal opinion. It’s an informed opinion, but it is an opinion.



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