GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Doctors in West Michigan are now writing a limited number of prescriptions for the antiviral pills used to treat COVID-19 patients.

A small supply became available for some patients just within the past week.

Dr. Andrew Jameson, the division chief of infectious diseases at Mercy Health St. Mary’s, is excited about what two newly available antiviral pills, paxlovid and molnupiravir, will mean in the fight against COVID-19. 

“I actually view these as a major step towards being done with the pandemic,” Jameson said.

While doctors received the OK from the Food and Drug Administration to start prescribing the medications at the end of last month, a limited supply is just now becoming available. 

The antivirals could play a crucial role in treating vulnerable populations that have very limited or no immunity against the virus.

“There’s probably 10% of our population or so that either has no immunity or they have an immune system issue that puts them at very high risk,” Jameson said.

The hope is antiviral pills can make treating COVID-19 easier for doctors and patients.

“This is shifting a lot of resources from hospital-based (to) out into the community,” Jameson said. “Up until now almost everything was done for the treatment inside the hospital.”

Dr. Ronald Grifka, the chief medical officer with University of Michigan Health West, says because supply is limited only the highest risk populations are eligible based on factors like age and other medical conditions.

“There’s a state approved prescription form that the physician has to fill out, check certain boxes to make sure the patient is qualified,” Grifka said.

Antiviral pills also provide a treatment option earlier in the diagnosis that could help reduce the need for more extensive care.

“We could easily treat patients even in the physician office, urgent care, or in the emergency room. Get them their prescription, get the oral medications and keep 90% of them from ever requiring a hospitalization,” Grifka said.

Doctors say while the antivirals are a useful tool, vaccination and getting a booster shot still provides the best defense.

“It will help prevent transmission, it will help prevent long COVID, it will help prevent blood clots, it will help prevent all these other things that these other treatments don’t,” Jameson said.