CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois will be receiving its first shipment of antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 cases later this month, as the federal government steps up its efforts to get the new virus treatments out to the public.

The Illinois Department of Public Health on Thursday announced both new COVID-19 antiviral pills approved by the FDA will be available in Illinois later this month: Paxlovid from Pfizer, and Molnupiravir from Merck. Both pills will be available by prescription only for people with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19, who are at high risk of severe illness, hospitalization, or death.

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In a study, Pfizer said its pill was 89% effective at preventing hospitalization and death among such high-risk patients. Pfizer says the pill works by blocking the ability of the virus to make copies of itself. Merck initially said its study found its antiviral pill could cut the risk of hospitalization or death by 50% compared to placebo, but the drugmakers’ final analysis showed a smaller relative risk reduction of 30%.

“These new oral antivirals add new tools to our toolbox to keep people with COVID-19 out of the hospital,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “While vaccination, including boosters, is still the best way to avoid infection and prevent severe illness from COVID-19, these new antivirals given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration can help treat those who get infected and have a higher risk of becoming severely ill.”

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IDPH said it is working with pharmacies statewide to offer both antiviral drugs, which are being provided for free by the federal government. Illinois will receive a limited supply of the pills every two weeks, and will provide a list of available locations once participating pharmacies are finalized.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden announced that he’s directing his team to double the United States’ order of Pfizer antiviral pills from 10 million COVID-19 treatment courses to 20 million treatment courses, and the delivery will be accelerated from September to June.

“We may need even more. That’s the estimate we need right now,” Mr. Biden said, noting the pills will dramatically decrease hospitalizations and deaths. “… They’re a game changer.”

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A senior administration official told CBS News producing the pills takes a long time because of its complex synthetic manufacturing process. The federal government’s order is in the process of being manufactured, and the official said the government is getting the pills as soon as they come off the production line. The official noted that the Pfizer antiviral pill is one tool in the toolbox of ways to combat the virus, and that by the end of January there will be 4 million COVID-19 treatments available to Americans, a mix of monoclonal antibodies, pre-exposure prevention treatments, and antiviral pills.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff