The B.C. government says it's making two anti-viral treatments available to British Columbians with COVID-19 who are at risk of severe illness.
On Wednesday (Feb. 23), the Ministry of Health said it would offer two therapeutic treatments to people deemed immunocompromised or clinically extremely vulnerable. Anyone over 60 who is not fully vaccinated and has a chronic condition, as well as unvaccinated Indigenous people over 60, are also eligible.
The first treatment, Paxlovid, is administered as a course of anti-viral pills that can be taken at home. The second option is Sotrovimab, an anti-viral that must be given through an infusion. Both need to be started within five days of a person developing symptoms for them to be effective, according to the Ministry of Health.
British Columbians looking to access either drug must have a positive result from a PCR or rapid antigen test and have mild to moderate symptoms that began over the past five to seven days.
If a patient meets those criteria, they must then pass through a four-step application process, including a 15-minute online assessment, a 15-minute confirmation call, and a clinical assessment that could take three days to complete.
Successful patients are expected to receive treatment within five days of starting the process.
Even then, warns the B.C. government on its website: “You aren’t guaranteed treatment.”
A day after Health Canada approved Paxlovid on Jan. 17, 2022, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry warned there would be a limited supply of only 4,000 treatment courses over the first few weeks.
Citing ongoing ethical conversations, at the time, Henry said the treatment would offer a vital alternative to people in communities where hospitals are not very accessible.
In clinical trials, Paxlovid was so successful at reducing hospitalizations and deaths among high-risk people not yet seriously ill with COVID-19 that Pfizer ended the trial early so it could start giving the treatment to a wider number of people. When given within three to five days of symptoms, it was 85 to 89 per cent effective at reducing hospitalizations. No Paxlovid patients died, while seven people in the study died after receiving a placebo.
In its approval of Sotrovimab, Health Canada cited a randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical study of the drug, noting it offered a “statistically significant reduction in the number of hospitalizations and/or deaths” compared to the placebo.
Health Canada considers the safety of a single 500-milligram dose “acceptable” as rates of adverse reactions were lower among trial patients who took the drug than for those who got a placebo.
With files from Elana Shepert and the Canadian Press