CVS limits sale of possible coronavirus-fighting drugs

Hydroxychloroquine, anti-malaria drugs, inhaler sales limited to preserve supplies for people with chronic conditions

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As researchers hunt for a coronavirus drug, CVS is locking up what it already has.

The brand announced Wednesday that pharmacy CVS Caremark is implementing new measures to balance the growing demand for off-label use of certain medicines to treat COVID-19 with the needs of customers who use them for chronic conditions.

Simply put, they want to save some of those meds for their other patients.

Hydroxychloroquine is one drug being limited. It was thrust into the public eye when the Trump administration approved it for testing, along with malaria drug chloroquine. New York State began trials Tuesday on the treatment of COVID-19 using the two drugs, which the president called “one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.”

Azithromycin, a protease inhibitor and albuterol inhalers, are also being rationed by CVS.

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“Our goal is to limit stockpiling of medication that could result in future shortages and gaps in care,” a company spokesperson told FOX Business. And to that end, pharmacies in certain states “are following dispensing guidelines regarding the use" of the drugs.

In states with no guidelines, the limit on those meds for COVID-19 is a 10-day supply with no refills.

There is optimism hydroxychloroquine could be used as a treatment for the deadly virus. In India, the world’s second-largest country, officials have banned the export of the medicine in anticipation of a possible shortage.

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Not everyone is convinced it can be used as an effective treatment, though. Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, is one of them. He recently signed an emergency order that prohibits prescribing and dispensing the drug for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, CVS said it's monitoring the global manufacturing environment and does not foresee major disruptions to its supply chain stemming from the pandemic.

“We have not experienced any significant out-of-stock or difficulty securing important medications,” for people with chronic disease, CVS Health Chief Executive Officer Larry Merlo told The Wall Street Journal. “People are getting their prescriptions refilled.”

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Since the first reports of COVID-19 in December, the virus has infected more than 64,700 people in the United States, according to the World Health Organization, resulting in about 900 deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged social distancing by staying at home and keeping at least six feet away from others in public, and in its March 15 guidance, it advised against gatherings of 50 people or more for eight weeks.

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This story has been updated to include a comment from CVS.