Antiviral pill for high risk Covid patients to be rolled out

Patients considered for Paxlovid include those who are immunocompromised, cancer patients and people with Down’s Syndrome.

A pharmacy
A pharmacy

An antiviral pill for those most at risk of serious Covid-19 will be rolled out on the NHS from next month, the Government has announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the UK’s second antiviral, PF-07321332+ritonavir, will be made available to thousands of people with weakened immune systems from February 10, with the aim of saving lives.

Clinical studies have suggested the drug, which is made by Pfizer and also known as Paxlovid, can cut the risk of hospital admission or death by 88% if given in the first five days of symptoms.

It is especially important for people with weakened immune systems who may not get maximum protection from vaccines.

People considered to be at highest risk include those who are immunocompromised, cancer patients and those with Down’s Syndrome.

One other antiviral, molnupiravir, and the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab are already being given to high-risk patients, with nearly 10,000 people treated to date.

Sajid Javid
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the new treatment could potentially save ‘thousands of lives’ (Henry Nicolls/PA)

According to the DHSC, the UK has procured more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe, with more than 4.98 million courses ordered so far.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Our pharmaceutical defences are crucial as we learn to live with Covid-19 and the UK is leading the way, especially when it comes to the use of cutting-edge antivirals.

“This is an important milestone – especially as Paxlovid has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for vulnerable patients by 88%, meaning potentially thousands of lives could be saved.”

People in the highest risk groups have already been informed by the NHS if they have a condition that will make them eligible to receive the treatments.

The UK Heath Security Agency has also sent priority PCR tests to around 1.3 million people so they can access the treatments as soon as possible after symptoms begin.

It comes as recruitment continues for the Panoramic study into the use of molnupiravir.

Anyone over the age of 50 or between 18 to 49 with certain underlying health conditions can sign up to the study as soon as they receive a positive PCR or lateral flow test result.

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