Azar warns key COVID-19 treatments ‘not getting used enough’ amid spike in cases, hospitalizations

A variant of coronavirus that has been reported in the United Kingdom is not expected to impact the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told “The Story” Tuesday.

“We have seen many different what one might call ‘strains’ of COVID-19,” Azar told host Martha MacCallum. “But here’s what is really important for viewers to know as we now have these vaccines coming, these vaccines don’t appear to be impacted by some of these modifications.”

British officials confirmed Monday that a “new variant” of COVID-19 had been discovered after infecting close to 1,000 people in the south of England.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it remains unclear whether the variant makes the virus more serious, transmissible, or interferes with diagnostics or vaccine effectiveness. But Azar said the U.S. vaccines appear to be “spot-on target with the different strains.”

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“Viruses do change all the time,” he told MacCallum. “What is great about these vaccines is that they seem to be still spot-on target with the different strains that we tend to see morphing among the COVID virus.”

The U.S. began to roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this week amid a troubling surge in cases. Azar encouraged medical professionals to administer Regeneron and Remdsivir — both touted by President Trump as effective treatments in his own fight against the coronavirus — until the vaccine is widely distributed. 

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“We have Eli Lilly’s Regeron and Gilead’s Remdesivir. They are not getting used enough, and they are not getting used early enough in the course of the disease,” he said. “We have a surplus of these products that are not getting used.”

The Eli Lilly monoclonal antibodies are free, Azar said, but doctors have not been prescribing the treatment as often as they should.

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 “What we need, though — and this is for the viewers and doctors watching — if you are over 65, or if you are co-morbid and have a risk of severe complications or hospitalization, talk to your doctor after getting a positive test, and ask about whether you can be put on these drugs,” he urged, “because they can help prevent hospitalization, severe consequences, or in the case of Remdesivir, help shorten your hospitalization stay.”