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Second COVID-19 antiviral set for release

Vulnerable people at risk from COVID-19 are set to have access to game-changing Pfizer antiviral

The UK’s second ground-breaking antiviral–Pfizer’s Paxlovid (ritonavir)–will be accessible to thousands of the country’s most vulnerable patients.

People at the highest risk who test positive for the virus–for example, immunocompromised individuals, cancer patients or those with Down’s Syndrome–could take Paxlovid directly. The antiviral molnupiravir and monoclonal antibody sotrovimab are currently being given to the highest risk patients, while nearly 10,000 patients have been treated to date.

Paxlovid reduced the relative risk of COVID-19-associated hospitalisation or death by 88% in those who received treatment within five days of symptoms appearing. This means that it could potentially save thousands of lives and also help to ease the burden on the NHS, which has reached new heights this winter.

Through the Antivirals Taskforce, the government has procured 4.98 million courses of antivirals–2.75 million courses of paxlovid and 2.23 million courses of molnupiravir.

The UK’s health and social care secretary Sajid Javid said: “Our pharmaceutical defences are crucial as we learn to live with COVID-19 and the UK is leading the way, especially when it comes to the use of cutting-edge antivirals. This is an important milestone–especially as Paxlovid has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for vulnerable patients by 88%, meaning potentially thousands of lives could be saved.

“We will set out further details on access to the new antiviral soon–until then, anyone who is eligible who tests positive for COVID-19 and has symptoms should sign-up to the PANORAMIC trial for the chance to receive our other antiviral, molnupiravir,” he added.

Lagevrio (molnupiravir) was authorised for use in November 2021, for use in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness. Such risk factors include obesity, older age (over 60 years), diabetes mellitus or heart disease.

Once paxlovid becomes fully available, the two antivirals are anticipated to have a hugely positive impact in reducing severe disease.