Manitoba getting 1,100 doses of newly approved COVID-19 antiviral treatment

Manitoba will be getting 1,100 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 antiviral treatment called Paxlovid.

A tweet from the Manitoba Government account on Monday said this is an initial allotment and more doses have been requested.

On Monday, Health Canada announced the approval of the drug, which is the first COVID-19 therapy that can be taken at home.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser of Health Canada, said the treatment consists of two drugs that are taken together twice per day, for five days. It is only for use after the diagnosis of COVID-19 and must be given within five days of the start of symptoms.

She added the studies submitted by Pfizer for Health Canada to review showed an effectiveness at preventing severe outcomes like hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19 by close to 90 per cent when taken within three days of symptoms showing up. The effectiveness is reduced slightly when taken five days after symptom onset to 85 per cent.

“I’ve never really liked the term game changer, but this is a really important tool that I think will provide some relief to hospitals,” said Dr. Philippe Lagacé-Wiens, a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital. “But there are a lot of warnings and caveats that come with that.”

Lagacé-Wiens said because initial supply is so limited, the impact won’t be huge on hospitals. He said it is also not a replacement for vaccination. He said the province needs to get to the point where the drug is widely available and easy to access through community pharmacies.

“At that point, for the high-risk people, it probably will make a major difference," he said. "But until we get to a really good supply chain and a testing system that works, we’re not going to see a huge difference. But it’s still really good news if you think about it.”

Lagacé-Wiens also said that because a confirmed positive test is needed to get Paxlovid, testing may need to be prioritized for people at higher risk of hospitalization and death since getting the drug early is so important.

“So this is really a great tool, but it has to be applied to the community setting in mild to moderate COVID-19 to reduce hospitalizations,” he said. “We really need to have excellent access to testing to be able to identify those people who are going to benefit from it, the ones with those risk factors we have been hearing over and over again in the pandemic because those are the ones who will benefit the most.”

Lagacé-Wiens said these populations may include people over 60, those with diabetes or lung disease or who are overweight. He also said this treatment is not approved for everyone, as children and pregnant women are not eligible. Paxlovid also has many medications that it interacts with, like birth control to antidepressants and more.

There is no word on when the first shipment of Paxlovid will arrive in Manitoba or how it will be distributed.