Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral drug Paxlovid was approved for use by Canada’s health agency on Monday, officials announced during a press conference, and said the drug will be a “new tool” in the toolbox of treatment options.
Health officials recommend that the drug, which is five-day treatment that can be taken at home, be prioritized for residents in high-risk groups with mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms. But ultimately, provinces will make their own guidelines for distribution, they said.
“The authorization today provides a new tool in the toolkit against Covid-19 at a crucial time in the pandemic as we are faced with new variants,” said Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser to the deputy minister. “Importantly, it is a more accessible anti-viral treatment for those at high risk of progression into severe Covid-19.”
Health officials said that this will include those who are moderately or severely immunocompromised and people 80 years-old and older who do not have up-to-date vaccinations, said Dr. Theresa Tam, chief public health officer of Canada. In addition, she said people who are age 60 and older who live in rural or underserved areas or are part of the First Nations are recommended for priority access.
It will be required that anyone taking the drug have a positive Covid-19 test, either a PCR or a rapid test, and start treatment within five days of symptoms, health officials said.
Tam said the tests will be distributed on a per-capita basis. Canada ordered an initial quantity of one million treatment doses in December, she said, but officials are still working to firm up an official delivery schedule. Regardless, the antiviral pill will be in short supply when it is first distributed as the drug is in high demand around the world, Tam said.
Several reporters asked about concerns of long wait times for Covid-19 test results and how that might interfere with getting timely treatment, but several health officials said that they hope that those in high-risk categories are prioritized for test results and will allow quick treatment.
“That has to be worked out on the ground, but it is challenging, there is no doubt about it,” Tam said. “So I do think increasing awareness to the at-risk populations that there may be treatments available now, even though we anticipate that at the beginning the supply will not be great anywhere.”
Tam added that each community is going to be “a little different” in how they roll out the drug and that it is best to pay attention local guidelines.
Health officials said that ultimately, they hope that the anti-viral will help blunt the severity of the illness and will help keep more people out of the hospital to reduce the strain on the health care system.