Update on new antiviral drug approved this week expected soon in Saskatchewan

Graphic courtesy HFCM Communicatie, via Wikimedia This is a representation of what the Covid-19 virus would look like under a powerful microscope.

On Monday, Health Canada approved the use of Paxlovid, a new antiviral drug made by Pfizer.

This is the first Health Canada-approved oral antiviral (pill) for COVID-19 recommended for people who test positive and are at high risk of severe outcomes including hospitalization or death.

“Note that this treatment that is another tool in our fight against COVID is not yet available in the province,” Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency (SPSA) president Marlo Pritchard said during the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre media briefing Tuesday. “Eligibility criteria and distribution will be announced in the coming days.”

Pritchard said Saskatchewan residents would have no way to access the medication until those details are announced.

Saskatchewan expects to receive a shipment of Paxlovid this week. Quantities are expected to be limited at first, but will increase throughout the year.

Paxlovid is taken twice a day for five days by those with COVID-19. It stops the virus from multiplying, which helps patients overcome the infection and potentially recover faster.

Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Satchan Takaya, the physician lead for the COVID-19 monoclonal antibody project, said that they will be doing a similar concept to monoclonal antibodies with Paxlovid.

“The eligibility is the same, most people won’t need it, most people are well protected with their vaccination and being fully vaccinated prevents that progression to severe disease,” Takaya said.

It will be available for those with an underlying condition, immunocompromised people or are unvaccinated and are at risk for severe disease.

“We are still working on the process for the eligibility as far as the risk factors as (they are) very similar to the Sotrovimab,” she said.

Takaya explained that once it becomes available, they would encourage the treatment for those people.

“We want to capture people during that mild phase of illness,” she explained. “Most people have saturations over 94 per cent. Not severely ill. Not hospitalized. Those are the ideal candidates for the therapy.”

The province also offers monoclonal antibody treatment for eligible residents who have received a positive test result on either a rapid antigen test or a PCR test as a tool to help prevent serious COVID-19 outcomes.

Residents are eligible if they have a positive test result and have not been vaccinated or are immunocompromised, are within seven days of becoming symptomatic and are 55 years or older or 18 years and older with specific high-risk co-morbidity. Patients are eligible regardless of their vaccination status.

Previously, the requirement had been within five days of becoming symptomatic.

If you meet these requirements, you may be referred for treatment.  Call HealthLine 811 or 306-766-6388 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., seven days a week to speak with a clinician regarding monoclonal antibodies.

The province however supports these treatments but believes vaccination remains the best tool.

All Saskatchewan residents age five and older are eligible to be fully vaccinated, and residents age eighteen and older are eligible for third/booster doses.

Certain at-risk populations are now also eligible for fourth doses.  For more information on the third/booster dose eligibility, see Saskatchewan.ca/covid-19.