COVID-19 drug Paxlovid available in NS, but you need to know where to look

This week Stephen Colclough attempted to access Paxlovid, the antiviral drug for the treatment of COVID-19, for his wife.

Colclough’s wife is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and tested positive for COVID-19.

“Our doctor said she had to come in right away and start [Paxlovid] treatment,” Colclough said. “And that’s all he was told. So we entered [the emergency room] in Halifax and she sat there for four hours and nobody, I mean, nobody spoke to her.”

Colclough, who lives in Eastern Passage, then called 811 and filled out Nova Scotia Health’s online form “Report and Support” Screening Tool who determines who needs what treatment for COVID-19. He didn’t get an answer right away and started to worry.

Just as he was beginning to fear that his wife would not be able to access treatment, he received a call to pick up the drugs from a local pharmacy.

Colclough believes there needs to be more clarity around who can access the drug in Nova Scotia and how they can get their hands on it.

Who can access it

According to Nova Scotia Health, Paxlovid, made by Pfizer, has been prescribed to 1,388 Nova Scotians since March.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, a physician and infectious disease researcher, is one of two people leading the treatment recommendation group and the prioritization group for high-risk COVID-19 patients in the province.

“The first principle of any treatment is that you want to give it to the people who get the most benefit from it and the least harm,” Barrett said Thursday. “And that’s how we determined who would get those drugs.”

Dr. Lisa Barrett says there is an adequate supply of Paxlovid in Nova Scotia for all high-risk patients. (Radio Canada)

Barrett said patients eligible for Paxlovid are typically older, have underlying issues with their immune system, have multiple health conditions and may not be fully vaccinated.

“Those most at risk of hospitalization or death are those for whom the benefit of Paxlovid outweighs the risk of the drug itself,” she said. “And it’s not a drug without some significant challenges in that there are so many drug interactions with other drugs that people commonly take.”

Barrett said it’s important for eligible people to act quickly once they start showing symptoms of COVID and test positive, because Paxlovid must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

How to get there

Once a patient has been diagnosed with COVID-19, either through a PCR test or a rapid home test, they should complete the “Report and Assistance” form.

“It gives us information about your age, other medical conditions, and other questions that help us determine if Paxlovid and some other drugs that aren’t talked about as much would be helpful for you,” Barrett said. .

She said the information is not shared or stored, but is sorted by an algorithm. If a person is eligible for a prescription to treat COVID-19 at home, they will be contacted by a member of the prescribing team to pick up the medication from a nearby pharmacy.

Paxlovid is a combination of two antiviral drugs: nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. (Cory Herperger/CBC Radio-Canada)

Besides Paxlovid, Barrett said there are two other treatments available in the province, called Remdesivir and Sotrovimab, which are intravenous medications.

“I think it’s good for people to know that if you’re considered one of those high-risk groups, within 24 hours, more than 95% of the time we’ve reached or we’ve tried to reach everyone,” Barrett said.

Barrett said it’s important for everyone who has COVID-19 to fill out the form, even if they aren’t at high risk or feeling too sick. She said those who complete the form and do not need treatment will not hear from Nova Scotia Health.

Barrett said almost all patients requiring treatment will receive a call within 48 hours, but if they don’t receive a call and are concerned, they can fill out the form again or contact their primary care provider.

“A lot of people are like, ‘Did he get my report and my assistance form?’ And the answer is, 99.9% of the time, yes.”

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