Paxlovid Covid-19 antiviral drug ‘an important second line of defence’


The criteria for being prescribed antiviral pills for treating Covid-19 is reasonably strict and people will have to be assessed by a doctor, Health Minister Andrew Little says.

Andrew Little

Health Minister Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The first shipment of Pfizer’s antiviral treatment Paxlovid will be available for prescribing to patients next week.

It was approved by Medsafe this month and 60,000 courses will available this year. Another oral antiviral drug, molnupiravir, is being evaluated by Medsafe.

The antivirals are given to immunocompromised people and others assessed as vulnerable soon after a Covid-19 diagnosis, Pfizer country medical director for Australia and New Zealand Dr Krishan Thiru said.

“This is an important second line of defence for those people who are particularly vulnerable for a poor outcome should they get Covid-19.”

Trials showed an approximate 90 percent reduction in people needing to be hospitalised or not surviving, he said.

Pharmac has published the criteria for being able to get antiviral pills, including molnupiravir when it becomes available.

As well as being symptomatic, and within the first five days of symptoms appearing, people will be eligible if they are immunocompromised or have several other risk factors identified by the Ministry of Health. These include chronic heart or lung disease, diabetes or hypertension that are not well controlled, and being 65 and over, or 50 years and over and not having completed a full course of vaccination.

Little said anyone who met the criteria would get the antiviral treatment whether they were vaccinated or not.

Pfizer in the making of its Covid-19 antiviral pills, Paxlovid, in Freiburg, Germany in 2021.

Covid-19 antiviral pills Paxlovid being manufactured by Pfizer in Germany. Photo: Handout / Pfizer / AFP

The criteria was reasonably strict and a doctor would have to see the Covid-19 patient and make an assessment, Health Minister Andrew Little said.

“They’ve got to know that they are symptomatic, and that they pose the risk and then work out the best course of treatment.”

“They’ll still need to be assessed by a GP in person,” he said. Little was confident clinics would make every effort to see people quickly.

Unvaccinated people who were symptomatic and met the criteria would eligible, Little said.

“We have a basic principle in the health system, we don’t discriminate on the basis of any factor, that includes those who’ve chosen not to be vaccinated.”

The pill, a protease inhibitor treatment, is taken at home and needed to be started within the first five days of an infection, Krishan Thiru said.

“This is for people who have just been diagnosed with Covid-19 and they’re well at the moment … they haven’t deteriorated yet, but they are at risk.”

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