New Brunswick's Health Department is refusing to confirm what a Saint John family says they were told last week: that the province will make the antiviral COVID-19 treatment drug Paxlovid more widely available.
Kailey DeLucry contacted CBC News last week after her brother Sam was prescribed Paxlovid by a doctor last Monday, his first day of COVID symptoms. A pharmacist refused to provide it, saying Sam was not eligible.
Sam DeLucry has Down's syndrome and his sister says that makes him more at risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes. But he wasn't covered by the province's criteria for Paxlovid.
"Down's syndrome wasn't classified under the criteria for immunocompromised," she said.
Then on Friday, DeLucry's mother got a call from an official at the Department of Health that the policy was changing, Kailey DeLucry said.
According to that phone call, access had been restricted because of a limited supply of the drug but "they now have access to lots" and the criteria will change.
The call "was quite apologetic and [they] said they were going to call the pharmacy and Sam was going to be able to get the medication."
Not only that, but access will be broaden to anyone in the province, if they're experiencing severe symptoms, DeLucry said her mother was told.
Who can get it?
According to the provincial government's COVID-19 website, Paxlovid is available only to "people who are at high risk of serious illness."
That included people aged 80 or older and others who were "moderately to severely immunocompromised."
The list of conditions and circumstances that met that definition did not include Down's syndrome.
"It sounds like it's good – more people are able to access it who need it and hopefully there aren't as many hiccups in trying to get it," DeLucry says.
Her mother was told that pharmacists would be able to prescribe it on their own.
Health department spokesperson Adam Bowie would not confirm the DeLucrys' version of the conversation last Friday.
"The Department of Health is currently reviewing its eligibility requirements for Paxlovid, and examining various ways to improve access to this medication," he said in an emailed statement.
"More information will be available soon."
Jake Reid, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association, said he was "aware of no such changes that have taken affect to this program yet" and referred questions about pharmacists prescribing it to the New Brunswick College of Pharmacists.
College registrar Anastasia Shiamptanis said in an email the college is working with the province to improve access to medications including Paxlovid.
"Work is ongoing and more information on any changes will be forthcoming," she said.
DeLucry's mother was able to get Paxlovid for her brother late on Friday, the final day he could start the medication.
Sam is 20 years old and has a history of respiratory infections.
He's now on the mend, his sister says.
Slow to change
Kailey DeLucry said given the staffing crisis in the province's hospitals, any treatment that would keep patients like him from being admitted makes sense.
Paxlovid had an 89 percent rate of reduction in the risk of serious illness or death in its clinical trial, according to Yale Medicine.
People who are infected must start taking it within five days of developing symptoms. They take a total of 30 pills over five days. The medication inhibits a key enzyme that helps the COVID-19 virus reproduce.
DeLucry says the Health Department official who spoke to her mother "apologized and acknowledged that the province has been slow to make this change."