A remedy to tame COVID-19

A remedy to tame COVID-19

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Canadians now have access to a treatment for COVID-19 that promises to unclog hospitals, as they are pills to swallow at home that prevent the coronavirus from causing serious illness or death.

Federal authorities yesterday gave the green light to the drug Paxlovid developed by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

“In clinical studies, what we have seen, is that this drug reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by 88% to 90%, it is very significant”, rejoices Alain Lamarre, professor-researcher specializing in immunology and virology at the National Institute for Scientific Research (INRS).

It is an antiviral treatment, that is to say that it reduces the ability of the virus to reproduce, and thus considerably slows down the disease. To be effective, it must be taken within five days of the first symptoms appearing.

The Novasep factory in Mourenx, France where the drug is produced.

A treatment cycle consists of three tablets to be taken twice a day, for five days, for a total of 30 tablets.

“This is great news,” said Dr. Theresa Tam, head of the Public Health Agency (PHAC). I think Canadians should be very happy to know that oral antiviral treatments are starting to become available in Canada.

She pointed out that this treatment will not wipe out the current wave of Omicron due to limited supplies. Pfizer is working to increase its production capacity. But, as with vaccines, this will take time.

Canada has only 30,000 treatments at the moment and another 120,000 will arrive by the end of March, said federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

A turning point

Nevertheless, this remedy has the potential to mark a turning point in the fight against the virus, believe Mr. Lamarre and Benoît Barbeau, virologist, professor in the department of biological sciences of the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

“It will benefit everyone if people are treated and do not end up in intensive care,” said Mr. Lamarre.

“What we are going through right now is a crisis. at the hospital level. Therein lies the issue. So limiting the number of people who end up in the hospital is very important,” believes Mr. Barbeau.

He points out that Health Canada was “quite slow” in approving this approved drug before the holidays in the United States, Israel, South Korea and Europe. Here, it took a month of analysis before yesterday's announcement.

“We had to give ourselves more treatment options in Canada for the serious symptoms of covid-19, says Mr. Barbeau. We may have collectively bet too much on the fact that vaccines alone could get us out of the pandemic. »

Not for everyone

« Vaccination remains our main game plan, adds the virologist. But this treatment is a complementary tool to the vaccine. One does not go without the other. »

Five Days of Paxlovid, however, is over $800, based on published US prices, and supplies are limited.

So the pills won't be handed out to everyone like ordinary tablets of acetaminophen. Only those who are most at risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19 will be prescribed them.

“We think of vaccinated people who do not respond well to vaccination, such as immunosuppressed people, those who have received a transplant, who have HIV or very old people with aging immune systems,” explains Lamarre. /p> This is what a treatment leaflet looks like.

Eight questions about Paxlovid from Pfizer  

Who can be prescribed this treatment first?

Those most vulnerable and at risk of developing complications, including the unvaccinated. More specifically: people who are severely immunosuppressed, those aged 80 and over whose vaccination status is “not up to date”, and those aged 60 and over living in rural areas, in accommodation and care centers (CHSLD) or in an Aboriginal community.

How many doses does Canada have? 

Canada received a first shipment of 30,400 treatments yesterday. He expects to receive 120,000 more by the end of March. Ottawa's deal with Pfizer calls for the purchase of one million Paxlovid treatments and discussions are underway to secure more. Another agreement with Merck, whose treatment remains to be approved, foresees the purchase of 500,000 doses.

When will the treatment be available?

The product could reach patients as early as this week. As the first shipment was received yesterday, Minister Duclos indicated that distribution could begin “immediately”.

How is the treatment used by the patient? 

It is a combination of two tablets of nirmatrelvir and one of ritonavir that must be taken twice a day for five consecutive days.

In what context will it be offered?

You must have received a positive diagnosis for COVID-19 to receive a prescription. Screenings from rapid tests may be accepted, due to shortage of PCR tests, according to Federal Public Health.

Does treatment replace the vaccine?  

Health authorities insist that Paxlovid in no way replaces the protection offered by the vaccine. “Vaccination and public health measures remain the most important tools to prevent illnesses caused by COVID-19 infection,” said Director of the Office of Medical Sciences at Health Canada, Dr. Marc
Berthiaume .

Who can prescribe the treatment?

Doctors will be able to prescribe Paxlovid. The treatment will not be sold over the counter at the pharmacy. Quebec must soon specify whether it intends to give pharmacists the right to prescribe the drug.

How much does the treatment cost?

Just like for vaccines, the federal government refuses to reveal the cost of Pfizer's oral treatment, citing confidentiality clauses that bind it to the pharmaceutical. In Quebec, the costs will be fully covered by the Régie de l'assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ).

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