COVID-19 pill Paxlovid now available in Saskatchewan officially

(File photo/Jayda Taylor)

Saskatchewan has received its first shipment of Paxlovid, the first Health Canada approved oral antiviral pill to treat COVID-19.

The province has 900 courses of the pill, which treats COVID-19 symptoms after a positive test result. The pill does not prevent patients from catching COVID, and it is not recommended for children.

Further supplies from the federal government are expected.

The current supply has been distributed to select community pharmacies across the province to be accessible once eligible residents have received a referral.  This includes working with Indigenous Services Canada to ensure access for First Nations and Métis communities.

“Paxlovid is only being provided to eligible patients through referral by HealthLine 811,” Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) president Marlo Pritchard said. “Please do not visit your family physician or pharmacy and request this medication.”

Paxlovid is only recommended for adults over 18 who are symptomatic and within five days of developing symptoms, test positive (PCR or rapid test) for mild or moderate COVID-19, do not have any medical conditions that would make treatment inappropriate.

They must also meet be either immunocompromised, regardless of vaccine status, or 55 and older and not fully vaccinated, or have a medical condition that puts them at high risk and not fully vaccinated.

Those who believe they meet the criteria must call HealthLine 811 for further assessment of their eligibility.

During the update, Pritchard said the increased number of positive rapid antigen tests due to the Omicron variant have significantly increased call volume to 811 throughout January. At peak hours, there were wait times of 24 hours, with 2,000 callers waiting for a callback.

“This speaks to the success we have had in creating widespread access to the rapid tests throughout the province, but as we acknowledged previously it has created capacity pressures on the 811 line,” he explained.

Prtichard added that the average wait time is down to roughly one hour for COVID-19 related calls. The province has added 60 administrative staff to address general information calls, and is in the process of adding additional registered nurses from the supplemental workforce.

He also reminded people that many of the answers people are looking for are available at the province’s COVID-19 website.

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Satchan Takaya, the physician lead for the COVID-19 monoclonal antibody project, said that they don’t expect Paxlovid to add a lot of pressure to the 811 line. She explained that people who call with a positive case go through a series of questions about eligibility for Paxlovid or monocronal antibodies. The form is then sent to an assessment team.

“We are already doing that for Sotrovimab, right now,” Takaya explained. “We look and see with the patient or the client so they are within that window for Paxlovid or Sotrovimab, and make sure that they have those risk factors for progression to severe disease. If they have that then we send either a prescription off to the pharmacy provided there is no drug interaction.”

The team includes a nurse practitioner and physicians and a clinical pharmacist who reviews the case. Then, if appropriate, it will be sent to the nearest pharmacy.

“If it looks like there are potential drug interactions it might be risky to provide Paxlovid, we will actually switch them over to Sotrovimab,” Takaya said. “We will get them to their nearest infusion centre.”

Takaya said she expects to see a lot of interest in Paxlovid, who could potentially mean more calls from those positive patients. However, she’s confident that won’t be too much to handle.

“We have actually streamlined it very nicely with 811,” she explained. “Pharmacy partners have done a lot of work but I think that we have got a fairly good process.”

Since the previous update, Sotrovimab has now been administered a total of 107 times, which is almost double the previous update.

“The beauty of this is we can reach 80 pharmacy sites with this as opposed to our 13 infusion sites,” Takaya said.

Both Pritchard and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab reminded people to get booster doses.

“Fully vaccinated individuals are still less likely to get a severe case of omicron than the unvaccinated,” Pritchard said. “Those that have received three doses are highly protected against severe illness from omicron, so I strongly encourage everyone that is eligible to get fully vaccinated or get their booster dose as soon as possible.”