Covid 19 Delta outbreak: Ministry of Health explainer on therapeutic treatments for virus

They’ve been described as “gamechangers” in the fight against Covid-19 – new therapeutic medicines that could become available through pharmacies that in some cases reduce the risk of death by close to 90 per cent.

Today director general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, Ministry of Health chief science advisor Dr Ian Town and Sarah Fitt, head of government drug-buying agency Pharmac, will explain the various medicines on the market and the role they will play in the health response.

A livestream on the new treatments will begin at 12.30pm.

This week Pharmac announced it had secured 60,000 doses of a new antiviral drug from Pfizer, which is known overseas as Paxlovid.

Trials have been very promising for the oral pill, with the risk of hospitalisation reducing by 89 per cent for adults with mild to moderate Covid-19 at high risk of progressing to severe illness when administered within days of diagnosis.

Because is a pill in oral form, it could potentially be prescribed by a doctor and picked up at a local pharmacy.

Since the start of the pandemic scientists have been trialling a huge range of these drugs, with limited degrees of success until now.

However, experts say the primary treatments remain vaccines and public health measures such as social distancing.

The drug adds to five other medications secured by Pharmac, including baricitinib, ronapreve, remdesivir, tocilizumab and molnupiravir.

However, while stocks have been secured many are yet to be approved here by Medsafe – New Zealand’s medicines and medical devices safety authority.

Supplies of ronapreve for example had been secured in September and molnupiravir in October but had still not been approved by Medsafe, which is required to measure just the effectiveness but also any potential side effects.

The United States government has ordered 10 million courses of the drug for US$5.3 billion, though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still working through its authorisation process.

The Pfizer antiviral is expected to be delivered to New Zealand in April, once approved by Medsafe.

Money for all six medicines comes from the Government’s Covid-19 fund.

Alongside vaccinations, treatments were reducing the likelihood of people needing ICU care, with the ICU rate in Auckland dropping to 3 per cent of hospitalisations, down from 5.7 per cent previously, the ministry has reported.

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