Apr 27, 2022 - Podcasts

Finding COVID treatment if you get sick

Antiviral treatments like Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill have been shown to reduce hospitalization and death from COVID by as much as 90%. But so far, these treatments have been hard to find. Yesterday the White House announced a series of steps it was taking to fix that problem.

  • Plus, why more people of color are buying guns in the U.S.
  • And, Harvard examines its ties to slavery.

Guests: Axios' Adriel Bettelheim and Shawna Chen.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Sara Kehaulani Goo, Alexandra Botti, Nuria Marquez Martinez, Alex Sugiura, and Lydia McMullen-Laird. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Wednesday, April 27th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what you need to know today: why more people of color are buying guns in the U.S. Plus, Harvard examines its ties to slavery.

But first, today’s One Big Thing: finding COVID treatment if you get sick.

NIALA: Vice President Kamala Harris announced yesterday that she's tested positive for COVID. She got her second booster earlier this month and so far Harris's symptoms are mild. The news from her office came a few hours after the White House announced a series of steps it's taking to address a key problem in our COVID recovery plan, making antiviral treatments easier to find. Here with the details is Axios’ senior healthcare editor

Adriel Bettelheim. Hi, Adriel.

ADRIEL BETTELHEIM: Hi, nice to be with you.

NIALA: Let's first start with what drugs are available right now for the treatment of COVID and how effective are they?

ADRIEL: So these antiviral drugs, include Pfizer’s paxlovid is and Merck's molnupiravir. And these drugs are normally available in pharmacies, community health centers, VA clinics, urgent care centers, currently these are available for adults and kids ages 12 and up who've tested positive and are at risk of developing severe COVID. And these have shown to be very effective in keeping people at risk of severe infections out of the hospital and possibly dying, maybe as much as 90%. The trick is that it's meant to be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms. So this is a real game changer if you can treat people at high risk at home without them being hospitalized and then possibly dying. This is kind of a big step in the pandemic response. The trick is to get them sort of diagnosed and tested and get the drugs in their hands within five days. And that's proven to be a bit of a logistical challenge so far.

NIALA: So if you get a positive COVID test, what's your first call then?

ADRIEL: Well, the point is that one would go to a place where you could be tested on site. So you'd be basically going to an online locator much like when they first rolled out, um, you know, vaccinations and people were looking for mass, you know, vaccine sites and such. You go to the place, if you get the positive test, presumably there would be a way to get a prescription right on site. You wouldn't have to make multiple stops and you would get the pills right there. And it's about 30 pills that have to be taken over the course of five days then.

NIALA: So you have a positive at-home test. Then your next step is to sort of Google test to treat options and hopefully that's how you can get into the system?

ADRIEL: That's right. This is why, to take advantage of this convenience, you sort of have to find the location and, and this is part of the problem. Not everyone has the capability of hopping online and doing web searching. Uh, not everyone has the time to call around to immediately get the drugs in their hand.

NIAL: And say you are able to access the pills. That's just the first step.

ADRIEL: Yeah, then you have to, to follow the, the regimen. Now there are other issues like side effects, and some telehealth doctors are a little reluctant prescribing from a distance because the side effects can almost be as bad as COVID.

NIALA: There is a danger of interaction with other drugs that may be part of the hesitation for doctors to prescribe this?

ADRIEL: Right. The, the administration is making a big deal about the availability, but there are other issues and among them is the fact that paxlovid, can interact with another of a number of common drugs and create side effects. It can alter your sense of taste and get high blood pressure, muscle aches, diarrhea. So it's not simply a case of access like the administration is portraying.

NIALA: Axios’ senior healthcare editor, Adriel Bettelheim. Thanks Adriel.

ADRIEL: Thanks so much.

NIALA: If you're interested in finding out more about where those test treat locations will be, we'll include the locator link in our show notes.

In a moment, we’re back with the uptick in gun sales in America…by people of color.

Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

People of color in the U.S. are buying guns at higher rates than ever before. People like Andre, a Black man in Texas.

The first thing I did when the pandemic hit, when everybody else was out buying toilet papers I was out buying bullets. No one knew what, how long we were going to be locked down. You have to be prepared for mass chaos. And I own assault weapons because of my neighbors owning assault weapons. When I go to a guy's house and he shows me 300 different types of firearms or weapons – it's threatening.

Axios’ Shawna Chen has been reporting out this issue and joins us now – hi Shawna.


NIALA: Shawna, what are the statistics here? How much of a rise are we talking about in gun owners?

SHAWNA: Yeah so, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, between 2019 and 2020, there was a 58% increase in African-Americans buying guns, 49% increase in Hispanic Americans buying guns and 43% increase in Asian- Americans buying guns. And these rates have increased remained unchanged between 2020 and 2021 among nearly 60% of the retailers they surveyed.

NIALA: Now how much does this mirror and increase in the entire population buying more guns? Is there something special about these numbers, about people of color arming themselves?

SHAWNA: You know, the pandemic definitely drove a lot of fear and uncertainty. NSSF said that they saw a record a number of background checks and March 2020, among all races. The piece about people of color in particular is due to a couple of different reasons. For Asian Americans, Chris Cheng from the Asian Pacific American Gun Owners Association told me that anti-Asian hate crimes drove a lot of people to arm themselves because they felt unprotected on the streets. For a lot of African-Americans the high profile cases of police brutality really made them realize that they can't trust law enforcement. And this is, you know, what Douglas Jefferson from the national African American Gun Association told me. For Latino Americans on the other hand, some of their fears, in terms of their experiences with crime and many of their home countries have been exacerbated by these last few years and some of the defund the police movement. With many of these Latino immigrants experience with crime in their home countries and knowing that underfunded police does not necessarily actually do anything. People are turning more to firearms, uh, as a result. And that's what Gabby Franco, who's a Venezuela and firearms instructor told me about her experience working with Latinos.

NIALA: What are the political ramifications from this?

SHAWNA: Democrats have already been losing some of these voters of color to Republicans on the last two elections. But I think the second amendment rights could clash with what the democratic party is trying to aim for when it comes to gun control. For a lot of these voters, they're not necessarily strictly republican or strictly Democrat, but now that they are really taking things into their own hands to protect themselves, they are going to want to hold onto that right because that's what they feel is necessary to really save their lives in many cases.

NIALA: What stood out to you personally, when you were reporting the story?

SHAWNA: The biggest thing is that there's definitely a tension in the idea of second amendment rights and what is actually granted, uh, and accessible to people of color. Second amendment rights for the longest time were really utilized by white people, many, many cases against black folks. And so now for Black people to be out there buying guns, for Asians and Latinos to be purchasing these guns as form of self protection. It's difficult because you know, you know that, you're not going to be treated the same way you're going to be viewed as a threat, as a danger. But for them, at least right now, the risk is worth it because the alternative in their minds is their lives.

NIALA: Shawna Chen is a reporter for Axios. Thanks, Shawna.

SHAWNA: Thanks so much Niala.

One final story before we go today. Harvard is the latest university to confront its historical ties to slavery, announcing yesterday that it has committed $100 million to redress and study that history. A report released two years in the making released with the announcement stated that the university owes its wealth to patrons who made their fortunes using slaves. And prominent figures at Harvard, including presidents, faculty and staff enslaved more than 70 people during the 17th and 18th century. Brown, Georgetown and Columbia are among the other higher education institutions also looking at their own connections to slavery.

That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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