Dec 7, 2021 - COVID

COVID "paradigm shift" coming for Tennessee

Tennessee health commissioner Lisa Piercey speaking behind a podium in 2020 as Gov. Bill Lee watches.
Tennessee health commissioner Lisa Piercey speaking in 2020 as Gov. Bill Lee watches. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Tennessee health commissioner Lisa Piercey expects the state to start receiving new COVID-fighting pills in the coming weeks.

  • Piercey predicts this will trigger a "paradigm shift" in the pandemic, with a renewed emphasis on quickly identifying COVID-19 infections.

Why it matters: Both oral drugs headed for release — from Merck and Pfizer — reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and death for COVID patients.

  • Piercey told reporters Monday she expects the Merck pill to reach the state by the end of the month, while the Pfizer pill could arrive by January.

Yes, but: Both drugs require patients to start medications within days of the onset of symptoms.

  • "If you think about the normal course of how this plays out, that can get really tricky," Piercey said, noting that people often wait to get tested for the virus a few days after they notice symptoms.
  • People will have to act faster to get the benefits of the pills. "Rapid testing, specifically, is going to be a really important component," Piercey said.

The details: Piercey doesn't know exactly when the pills will be available in Tennessee. Both companies are asking the FDA for emergency authorization; a federal advisory committee last week recommended authorizing the Merck pill.

  • The U.S. plans to buy millions of both pills.
  • The health department will release more information soon about the state's plan for distributing its supply, Piercey says.

By the numbers: New cases in Tennessee continue to rise. As of Sunday, the state recorded a rolling seven-day average of 1,904 cases, in line with numbers from mid-October.

Meanwhile: The Omicron variant has been detected in the neighboring states of Georgia and Missouri. Piercey expects it to arrive in Tennessee soon.

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