The United States government doubled its order for Pfizer’s COVID pills on Tuesday, a move that will modestly increase the nation’s very limited supplies of the treatment in the short term, as the country deals with a record-setting surge in coronavirus cases.

The new order will eventually provide enough pills for 10 million Americans, bringing the government’s total order of the drug to 20 million treatment courses. But they will not all be available right away. Only 35,000 of the additional courses would be delivered this month, and 50,000 more in February, to add to the 350,000 treatment courses that were already expected in the next two months, according to a senior administration official.

“We may need even more,” President Joe Biden said on Tuesday, announcing the move ahead of a briefing he was set to receive from health advisers. “That’s the estimate we need right now.”

The government has agreed to pay Pfizer $530 for each treatment course, the same amount it paid for its initial order late last year, the official said.

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The increase in supplies is likely to come as welcome news at a time when Pfizer’s pills and other COVID treatments are hard to find and demand for them is high. But monthly deliveries of the Pfizer treatment, known as Paxlovid, are not expected to ramp up into the millions until April, too late to help with the current surge. The combined order is not due to be completely filled until the end of September.


Still, Biden hailed the order as a key component of the federal government’s winter pandemic response. “They’re a game-changer,” he said, “and have the potential to dramatically alter” the course of the pandemic.

Paxlovid was authorized two weeks ago for use in high-risk COVID patients age 12 or older. The treatment, meant to be taken soon after the start of symptoms, has proved in clinical trials to be highly effective in staving off severe illness.

But public health experts warn that without adequate testing supply, it could be difficult to quickly get the pill to those most in need.