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On December 22, 2021, millions of Americans felt, for the first time in a long time, hopeful. Flipping through TV channels, scrolling through social media, or reading through the morning news, we watched the FDA give the green light to a new COVID-19 treatment. That day, Pfizer’s Paxlovid received emergency use authorization, and the next day, so did Merck’s molnupiravir: putting two new treatments on the map.
We celebrated. We smiled. We hugged our loved ones tight. After two years of anxiety, uncertainty, and learning to live with COVID-19, we felt that things were changing. We felt that, finally, we could envision a healthier, happier world.
Fresh out of pharmacy school, Neal Hollis took a chance. It was June of 2020. In the middle of a pandemic and the sweltering Savannah heat, he opened up shop at Georgetown Drug Company — unsure of how things would go but willing to take a risk.
Neal had always dreamed of opening his own pharmacy: of taking care of patients while providing small-town Southern hospitality. But he didn’t expect that a pandemic would be the right time.
Amid all the uncertainty, Neal admits, “It was really scary in the beginning.”
With concerns of COVID and a new community to serve, Neal knew he would have his fair share of growing pains. As he explains, “At first, we had some trouble with people trusting us: being a new business in town and changing things around. People don’t like change. But when you show them what you can do, and that you can do it better than anybody else, they start to trust you.”
And trust, as Neal knew, was more important than ever. Over the next few months, Neal and his team worked to prove themselves. It paid off.
No doubt, Neal and his team had earned trust: not only among patients and professionals but among healthcare organizations in the state.
That’s why it came as no surprise when Georgetown Drug Company was selected as one of only 47 pharmacies in the state of Georgia to receive the new COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments.
When the FDA first announced Paxlovid and molnupiravir, Neal Hollis started getting ready. He read the studies and knew the science:
He saw the potential — to protect patients, reduce risk, and save lives in Savannah — and he took yet another chance.
Without missing a beat, Neal applied to receive the new treatments. Then, he started strategizing how to effectively implement them in the pharmacy. Not long after, he got word that the application was approved, and that he would soon receive a shipment.
Neal speculates why his pharmacy was selected, and says, “I think we proved that we were worthy of [the new treatments]. All the hard work and sweat we put into helping our patients with COVID — testing, traveling all over the state, giving vaccines to long-term care facilities — paid off. It’s been a testament to what we are capable of.”
Neal and his team immediately started preparing. They spread the word, set up dispensing stations, and started recording the prescription orders that doctors were already calling in.
The response was expected. With high demand all around, Georgetown Drug Company sold out of Paxlovid in just a few days. Now, as they wait for the next round, they continue to dispense their remaining supply of molnupiravir. And, like the rest of us, they watch and wait to see what the impact will be.
Since they first opened their front doors, Neal and his team have had one goal in mind: protecting their patients and ending the pandemic. With new treatments in their hands, Neal feels that this goal is well underway.
As he says, “I think this is going to be great for the community. It gives the patients another option — especially because treatments like REGEN-COV [monoclonal antibodies] aren’t as effective in treating the omicron variant.”
And it isn’t just about effectiveness: it’s about accessibility. Unlike other treatments, patients can quickly and easily pick up a prescription for COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments at their local pharmacy. Instead of getting an IV or taking an injection, they can swallow a pill and see their symptoms improve.
Together, the effectiveness and accessibility of these treatments make all the difference in protecting communities like Neal’s.
Neal sees even more opportunities than that, though.
By treating patients and repairing relationships, Neal believes that pharmacists can restore their communities once and for all. It all starts by taking the first step.
COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments are here, and they’re here to stay. On January 5, President Biden pledged to buy 20 million courses of Paxlovid (doubling his initial order). Soon, these treatments will be rolling out in pharmacies all across the country.
But you shouldn’t wait until then.
Neal urges independents to get in early: to treat patients and prove their advantage before their competitors do. If you can get in first, you can save a life and make a lifelong customer.
Neal says, “Being different and being unique is huge, especially right now. If there’s something that can set you apart from someone else, you need to do it — because that’s what’s going to get more people in the door and more people coming to you.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. With so much left unanswered, it can feel risky to take a chance on a new treatment. If Neal has learned anything, though, he’s learned it’s worth the risk to protect his patients.