125: COVID-19 Antivirals

Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee’s Health Commissioner, says the increased availability of oral antiviral medications doesn’t lessen the need for vaccines to fight COVID-19; Cortney Lovell, co-founder of Our Wellness Collective, says she hopes a new...

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Dr. Lisa Piercey, Tennessee’s Health Commissioner, says the increased availability of oral antiviral medications doesn’t lessen the need for vaccines to fight COVID-19; Cortney Lovell, co-founder of Our Wellness Collective, says she hopes a new training program will inspire public health professionals to explore recovery peer services for people struggling with substance use; and ASTHO teams with the CDC to write an article for the Journal of Women’s Health about a program that sent field staff to five states to help pregnant and post-partum people and infants exposed to opioids and other substances.

ASTHO: Recovery Peer Services Training Program

Journal of Women’s Health: OMNI LC field placement process

ASTHO logo



This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, February 24th, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.

Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.


Vaccines are considered the best defense against COVID-19, but oral antivirals are another welcome tool in the fight to control the virus. Tennessee is among those jurisdictions receiving regular allocations of these medications; the state's health commissioner, Dr. Lisa Piercey, explains their value in today's morning conversation.

What impact will these increased allocations of the oral COVID-19 therapeutics have on your ability to control the virus in Tennessee?


Yeah, that's a great question, because I think that question has answers on both the individual and kind of the collective, from their standpoints.

So, from the individual standpoint, you know, this is starting to feel much more like how we handle other viruses, so it can reduce that intimidation factor of, "Oh goodness, if I get infected I have to go get this IV infusion. That's really scary, and I don't know about all that, and I don't know how to get there." But they're familiar with the concept of oral antivirals, so I think that's one of those, sort of restores hope and normalization like other infectious diseases on the individual standpoint.

Then maybe, at least from my perspective, from a more important standpoint, is the collective perspective of this is a way to increase utilization of the population because with an increased supply, we're able to send it out, get it to more convenient, more accessible locations, which will help drive its use. And the more we can use it amongst our population, the lower our hospitalization and mortality numbers.


Does the news impact your vaccination messaging at all?


You know, actually it doesn't really impact it at all, from my perspective. I have said many times—and will continue to say—vaccine is the single most important thing you can get to lower your chances of severe disease or death.

But we also know that the vaccines aren't perfect and there are breakthrough cases. So, you know, you can add onto the vaccine messaging, "Vaccines are the most important thing you can do; but if you do get infected and you're eligible for one of these oral antivirals, you need to pursue that option as well."

You know, in public health, we're all about prevention and upstream messaging, and we're not backing off the importance of vaccination.


What about feedback to your announcement? What are you hearing from people?


So, from the consumer standpoint, we actually haven't heard a lot because, as we have seen many times throughout the pandemic, when case numbers start to precipitously decline like we've seen over the last three or four weeks, the public interest drops off very quickly. And so, we've heard some anecdotal feedback from consumers about, "Ah, this is great. And I'm glad that I don't have to drive, you know, 20 or 30 or 40 miles to get this. I can get it closer to home."

But who we've heard from the most and had the most positive feedback are from prescribers and dispensers, because they want to be able to offer that option to their patients in a much more convenient and accessible manner. Not only does that help them take care of their patients better, but—as I mentioned a minute ago—is going to drive utilization and compliance because it's going to make it easier to access.



Public health professionals can learn more about recovery peer services for people trying to overcome substance use, thanks to a partnership between ASTHO and the organization known as Our Wellness Collective. The self-guided training can be completed in about two hours, but it's self paced if registrants need more time to go through the course.

Cortney Lovell is a partner and co-founder of the Collective.


I hope is that the ASTHO members across the country who do participate will be inspired, really: inspired to explore recovery peer services more deeply; to look within their own networks and communities to see where this might be exactly what's missing; or, better yet, what's already there in their community, in their agencies, that they can help expand upon and grow further.


Open seats for the online training are limited. Register now using the link in the show notes.


Finally today, ASTHO and CDC staff have teamed up to write a new article in the Journal of Women's Health. The article discusses the placement of temporary field staff in five states where they supported programs for pregnant and postpartum people and infants exposed to opioids and other substances. There's a link to the article in the show notes.


That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.

I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.

Lisa Piercey MD MBA FAAP

Commissioner, Tennessee Department of Public Health

Cortney Lovell

Co-Founder, Our Wellness Collective