San Francisco has a supply of the two antiviral drugs approved for treating cases of COVID-19, but they may have to return thousands of doses if they don't get used — and thousands have already been returned to the federal government.

Apparently there hasn't been as much of information campaign about the local availability of Paxlovid and Molnupiravir as there was with the COVID vaccines last year, and the SF Department of Public Health put out a statement on Wednesday to make sure that people know they can get the drugs if they need them.

These antivirals, which if taken within five days of infection have been proven to stop the onset of serious disease or COVID complications, are still not available to everyone. But if you are over age 65, immunocompromised, or unvaccinated, or if you have any of a long list of qualifying health conditions including pregnancy and obesity, you can ask your doctor for a prescription as soon as you test positive.

"COVID-19 medicines can save lives and are important tools we can use to protect people who are medically vulnerable, but we must be prepared to get them to people quickly,” said Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip in a statement. "We are helping to ensure people have access to these medicines through their medical systems. People should review the eligibility criteria now to see if they are at high risk for serious illness from COVID-19, keep rapid test kits on hand, and have a plan for reaching a doctor quickly if they test positive.

Philip added, "This is one of the ways we can be prepared for COVID, as this virus will be with us for some time to come."

As the Chronicle reports, the city has already had to return thousands of doses that were allocated to SF because hardly anyone has been getting prescribed the drugs. This could be because they or their doctors haven't known they're available, or because they didn't inform their doctors within the five-day window of being infected.

If you think you have COVID, you should tell your healthcare provider and/or call the SF DPH's COVID Resource Center at  628-652-2700. You can also visit one of dozens of "Test-to-Treat" locations in the Bay Area, where you can be prescribed one of the drugs on the spot.

Paxlovid, which comes from Pfizer, and Molnupiravir, which is made by Merck, were hailed as game-changers in the pandemic and received FDA approval back in December. The public was told that the availability of the drugs would be limited, and that only elderly people would likely have access to them. But they are now broadly available and should be utilized by anyone who needs them, Dr. Philip says.

The city received 6,000 doses of the drugs earlier this year, and has already had to return 3,500 of them because they were set to expire.

Related: Biden Administration Plans to Spend $5B on Pfizer's COVID Treatment Pill to Keep Unvaccinated Out of Hospitals

Photo: Christina Victoria Craft