Paxlovid COVID-19 treatment reaches N.W.T. communities

·3 min read
Pfizer Paxlovid oral Covid-19 antiviral therapeutic treatment. The drugs are now available throughout the N.W.T. though guidelines on who can access it have not yet been published.  (Cory Herperger/CBC Radio-Canada - image credit)
Pfizer Paxlovid oral Covid-19 antiviral therapeutic treatment. The drugs are now available throughout the N.W.T. though guidelines on who can access it have not yet been published. (Cory Herperger/CBC Radio-Canada - image credit)

As provinces and territories across the country face criticism for not making the at-home COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid more accessible, the N.W.T. government says it's made doses available in communities across the territory.

The territory's health authority said the N.W.T. has received 200 courses of Paxlovid treatment. The treatment was approved by Health Canada in January and doses were sent to each province and territory based on their population size.

The authority said half of the 200 doses are in territorial hospitals, health centres and community health clinics, while the remaining doses are being stockpiled.

"This approach to distribution was taken due to the geographically dispersed nature of N.W.T. communities, in order to ensure supplies are readily available at the local level when a course of treatment is prescribed," said David Maguire, a spokesperson for the NWT Health and Social Services Authority, in an email.

The medication is designed to help the body fight the virus, reduce symptoms from an infection and shorten the period of illness. Eligible patients take Paxlovid at home within five days of the start of COVID-19 symptoms. It is not approved for patients who are already hospitalized with severe or critical COVID-19 symptoms.

However, the N.W.T. health authority can't say how many of the treatments have been prescribed in the territory.

"Because of our distributed approach we cannot at this time provide usage data because this is reported manually from health centres and may experience significant lags," Maguire said.

While most provinces and territories have strict eligibility requirements for the drug, the N.W.T. health authority was unable to provide CBC with its eligibility requirements by deadline.

In the Yukon, in order to be prescribed the treatment you must meet a set of specific risk factors including being 50 or older, not having been fully vaccinated and with health risk factors. If you're 60 or older and not fully vaccinated you may also qualify.

Alberta has some of the most relaxed requirements.

Any Indigenous person over the age of 45 who is not fully vaccinated may be eligible. It's also available to immunocompromised Albertans, including transplant recipients and those undergoing cancer treatment, and residents of continuing care facilities regardless of their immunization status.

How to get Paxlovid in the N.W.T.

In order to be prescribed the drug in the N.W.T., you must test positive for COVID-19 at a health facility. A positive at-home rapid test doesn't count.

In order to get a test at a facility, residents must visit their community health centre or the COVID-19 testing centre on Archibald Street in Yellowknife. Residents of smaller communities can call their health centre to make an appointment and people in Yellowknife can book their test online

Paxlovid can only be prescribed to people within the first five days of a COVID-19 infection.

Even if you're at risk for a severe infection, you may not necessarily be prescribed the treatment.

Paxlovid slows down the body's ability to metabolise some medications. Health Canada recommends people who are taking certain medications should not take Paxlovid. They include Alfuzosin, which is used to treat high blood pressure, several medications for irregular heartbeat, certain cancer drugs, a few medications used to treat mental health issues, and the herbal product St. John's Wort.

People with liver or kidney disease should talk to their health-care provider before taking Paxlovid, Health Canada says.

Doctors and pharmacists emphasize that the availability of a COVID-19 treatment like Paxlovid is not a replacement for vaccination. Being fully vaccinated still provides the greatest level of protection against severe illness or hospitalization, they say.

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