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Acquiring a COVID-19 antiviral pill will be more challenging for some communities

Only 50 pharmacies across the state are offering the pills. Transportation and health insurance will be two important factors for people who need the treatment.

ATLANTA — 50 pharmacies across Georgia are receiving small quantities of the new anti-viral COVID-19 pills, meant to reduce symptoms and keep people out of the hospital. There's already a high demand for them, but a low initial supply.

That is just one of many barriers many communities will be facing in order to get their hands on this treatment.

Dr. Jayne Morgan with the COVID Task Force for Piedmont Healthcare System explains that only people who test positive for COVID-19 and get a prescription from a doctor are able to get one of the more than 9,000 antiviral COVID pills being shipped to Georgia pharmacies.

"The challenge in the operations and logistics of a medication such as this, is it's going to be imperative that you get access to a test before you can even cross the first hurdle to qualify for getting these pills," said Dr. Morgan. "That could be challenging for many people, especially when we have a scarcity of tests to be available."

Dr. Morgan says all those steps need to happen quickly because people have to start the pills within five days of developing symptoms.

“I think it's just a supply and demand issue," she said. "We just have to manufacture much more of it such that it is accessible and available through our pharmacies."

RELATED: Georgia receiving initial, small numbers of new antiviral pills to treat COVID patients

Another hurdle is that only people who can afford going to the doctor for a prescription will be able to get these pills. 

Gigi Pedraza, Executive Director of the Latino Community Fund, says that'll be a big challenge for a lot of Latinos who are uninsured.

“We know that 90% of all of our Latino children in the state are US born... however, close to 16% of them, which is double the national average, are uninsured," she said.

Pedraza explains that in 2019, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that around 34.2% of Latinos in Georgia didn't have health insurance. That's a number that has likely grown since that year... possibly to 40%.

"We know that the numbers have likely changed. This is why our estimates are a little bit higher," she said. "A lot of people lost jobs and there has been a huge really shift in the way that we work in the country in the last few years - with the gig economy. We likely have less availability to participate in the insurance market."

The third hurdle is transportation. There are no pharmacies currently offering the pill in Gwinnett County, where the Hispanic population is 22%. There are no pharmacies offering it in Fulton County right now, either.

RELATED: What the CDC's new COVID guidance may mean for Georgia students, according to a doctor

"[Transportation] is not a Latino issue. It is a Georgia issue," said Pedraza. "It's really an issue that's affecting all of Georgia's diverse communities. I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for folks that live in rural Georgia that have even less access to doctors and transportation. That network is even more limited during these times because of COVID. A lot of our community does not live close to MARTA - close to public transportation.”

Some organizations are working to fix the transportation issue. MARTA officials warned about cuts in routes due to staffing shortages from COVID, but has since partnered with Lyft and Uber. If a route gets disrupted, you can get a voucher on the ridesharing apps.

Click here for more information.

Also, misinformation is a big hurdle. Agencies, including LCF, are reminding people you can only get these pills from the pharmacies listed on the Georgia Department of Public Health website.

"So they know that only physicians can prescribe this... not a health coach, not a friend, not a chiropractor," said Pedraza. "And that these pills are only available in those locations, that address public health made available... not online, you can't buy them from somebody else."

LCF will be posting information about the pills on their Facebook page.