COVID-19 medication Paxlovid available in N.S., but you have to know where to look

·4 min read
Paxlovid was prescribed 240 times in June in Nova Scotia.  (Cory Herperger/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Paxlovid was prescribed 240 times in June in Nova Scotia. (Cory Herperger/Radio-Canada - image credit)

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

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

"Our doctor said that she needs to go in right away and start [Paxlovid] treatment," Colclough said. "And that's all she was told. So we went in to [the emergency room] in Halifax and she sat there for four hours and nobody, I mean, nobody talked to her."

Colclough, who lives in Eastern Passage, then called 811 and filled out Nova Scotia Health's online "Report and Support" screening tool that determines who needs which treatment for COVID-19. He didn't hear back right away and started to worry.

Just as he was beginning to fear his wife wouldn't be able to access the treatment, he got a call to pick up the medication at a local pharmacy.

Colclough believes there needs to be more clarity about 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, infectious diseases doctor and researcher, is one of two people leading the therapy recommendation group and 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 and the least amount of harm," Barrett said Thursday. "And that's the way we determined who would be getting these medications."

CBC
CBC

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

"Those who are at highest risk for becoming hospitalized or dying are the people for whom the benefit of Paxlovid is greater than the risk of the drug itself," she said. "And it's not a medication without some significant challenges in that there are many, many drug interactions with other medications that people commonly take."

Barrett said it is important for eligible people to act fast once they begin to have COVID symptoms and test positive, because Paxlovid must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

How to access it

Once a patient has been diagnosed with COVID-19 either through a PCR test or a rapid test at home, they should fill out the "Report and Support" form.

"It gives us information about your age, your other medical problems, as well as some other questions that help us to determine whether or not Paxlovid and some other medications that are also not talked about as much would be useful for you," Barrett said.

She said the information is not shared or stored, but is sorted by an algorithm. If someone 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 at a nearby pharmacy.

Cory Herperger/CBC Radio-Canada
Cory Herperger/CBC Radio-Canada

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

"I think it's good for people to know that if you are considered one of those groups that are at high risk, within 24 hours greater than 95 per cent of the time we've reached or we've attempted 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 high risk or if they aren't feeling too sick. She said those who fill out the form and don't need treatment won't hear back from Nova Scotia Health.

Barrett said almost all patients who require 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.

"There are many people out there who wonder, 'Did they get my report and support form?' And the answer is, 99.9 per cent of the time, yes."

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