Antiviral Medicines for COVID

Family Health Diary

Covid antiviral medicines have been available in New Zealand for several months now, on prescription from your doctor. They have recently been reclassified by Ministry of Health so that they are now available after a consultation with your pharmacist. There are a lot of medicine interactions that need to be managed as part of the consultation to ensure these medicines are safe for you to take. To find out more visit MoH website.

These new antivirals are specific for Covid infections. They have been shown to reduce the chance of you being so sick with Covid that you need to go to hospital. They are really effective, and reduce your chances by up to 90% if started within a few days of your Covid symptoms. It is worth understanding the process in case you or someone you know will benefit from taking them.

Who will benefit from taking the Covid antivirals?
There are now three different Covid antivirals currently available (Paxlovid, Lagevrio and Veklury). The two are in common use. Paxlovid is more effective than the other two but interacts with some medicines so is not suitable for everyone. Your doctor and pharmacist work together to work out which medicine will be best for you.

In New Zealand PHARMAC decide on the criteria for funding medicines. They determine what medicines are funded and sometimes (like with the Covid antivirals) they are only funded for people in certain circumstances. The Covid antivirals are very expensive and so it is important that they are used for the people who will benefit most. In New Zealand they are funded for people who are most at risk from becoming really unwell from Covid. Many people, especially vaccinated young healthy persons, will usually produce their own immune response and fight off the Covid infection by themselves. They are unlikely to benefit from the antivirals.

The antivirals can only be provided to people who:

  • have Covid
  • their symptoms started within the last 5 – 7 days (depending on which medicine you are prescribed)
  • and are not needing to use oxygen to help them breath

PHARMAC change the criteria for receiving these medicines from time to time. They have recently made them available to many more people, so check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are eligible for funded Covid antiviral medicines. Māori and Pacific people tend to become more unwell from Covid and so have slightly different criteria for being able to have these medicines.

Only if you have Covid
Some confusion arose when doctors were told to write prescriptions for people who meet the access criteria but did not yet have Covid. The government will not pay for these medicines for you unless you actually have Covid. If you want your doctor to write you a prescription before you get Covid, this will be for you to send to the pharmacy if you get Covid.

If you develop Covid symptoms and think you will benefit from these antivirals you can phone your pharmacy and talk to the pharmacist (you do not need a prescription). If you have Covid, you need to stay home and isolate. You will not be able to personally go into the pharmacy but the pharmacist is more than happy to talk to you on the phone about Covid and about these anti-viral medicines.

The Ministry of Heath initially only sent the Covid medicines to some pharmacies. They are now expanding the number of pharmacies that can supply them but you might find that your usual pharmacy does not have these medicines. Your usual pharmacy might need to refer you to another pharmacy to get these medicines. You could ask your pharmacist now if they have these medicines so that if you find you get Covid you will know who to telephone.

Once you speak to a pharmacist at a pharmacy who has the Covid medicines, they can do the consultation over the phone. The pharmacist will then arrange for a contactless delivery of the medicines to your home so you can start taking them as soon as possible.

Remember to follow all the usual public health messages like mask wearing and hand washing. It is certainly better to prevent Covid than catch it. Many pharmacies now have free masks available as well as free boxes of RAT tests. Make sure you have everything you need at home in case you do test positive: RAT tests, masks, a week’s worth of food and all your regular medicines.

There seems to be a lot of Covid around again, but remember we won’t all catch Covid. So long as you are fully vaccinated including your booster you are likely to be able to fight off the infection by yourself. Click here to read the article about second boosters so you can decide if you will benefit from getting a second Covid booster to keep your immunity high.

Written by Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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