COVID-19

A remedy to tame COVID-19

Canadians now have access to a COVID-19 treatment that promises to break hospitals, as take-home pills prevent the coronavirus from causing serious illness or death.

• To also read: Anti-COVID pill: very good news!

• Read also: Pfizer oral treatment for COVID-19 approved on Monday

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

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

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

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

AFP Photo

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

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

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

He stressed that this treatment will not end 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 120,000 more will arrive by the end of March, federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said.

Inflection point

However, 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 at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

“Everyone will benefit if people get treatment and don’t end up in intensive care,” Mr Lamarre said.

“What we are experiencing right now is a crisis at the hospital level. Therein lies the question. So it’s very important to limit the number of people who end up in hospital,” Mr. Barbeau believes.

He notes that Health Canada was “pretty 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 in the face of severe Covid-19 symptoms, 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. »

However, Five Days of Paxlovid costs more than $800, based on US published prices, and supplies are limited.

Therefore, the pills will not deliver to everyone like ordinary paracetamol tablets. It will only be prescribed for people at higher risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19.

“We’re thinking about vaccinated people who don’t respond well to vaccination, such as people who are immunosuppressed, people who have received a transplant, people with HIV, or very old people with aging immune systems,” explains Mr. Lamarre.

This is what a treatment leaflet looks like.

AFP Photo

This is what a treatment leaflet looks like.

Eight questions about Pfizer Paxlovid

Who can be prescribed this treatment first?

The most vulnerable and at risk of developing complications, including the unvaccinated. More specifically: severely immunosuppressed people, over 80 years of age whose vaccination status is not “up to date”, and over 60 years of age who live in rural areas, in foster care and long-term care (CHSLD) or in an Aboriginal community.

How many doses does Canada have?

Canada yesterday received a first shipment of 30,400 treatments. He expects to receive 120,000 more by the end of March. The Ottawa deal with Pfizer calls for the purchase of one million Paxlovid courses, and talks are underway to get more. Another agreement with Merck, whose treatment has not yet been approved, provides for the purchase of 500,000 doses.

When will the treatment be available?

The product could be on its way to patients as soon as this week. As the first shipment was received yesterday, Minister Duclos indicated that the distribution could begin “immediately”.

How is the treatment used by the patient?

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

In what context will it be offered?

You must have received a positive diagnosis of COVID-19 to receive a prescription. Rapid test screenings could be accepted, due to the shortage of PCR tests, according to Federal Public Health.

Does the 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 illness caused by COVID-19 infection,” said Health Canada Office of Medical Sciences Director Dr.
Berthiaume.

Who can prescribe the treatment?

Doctors will be able to prescribe Paxlovid. The treatment will not be sold without a prescription at the pharmacy. Quebec must soon specify whether it intends to give pharmacists the right to prescribe the drug.

What is the cost of the treatment?

As with vaccines, the federal government refuses to reveal the cost of Pfizer’s oral treatment, citing confidentiality clauses that link it to the drugmaker. In Quebec, the costs will be fully covered by the Régie de l’assurance maladie du Québec (RAMQ).

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