COVID-19: Paxlovid a 'major component' of how US is moving forward from pandemic - Johns Hopkins University professor

Wider access to antiviral medicine in the US is playing a big part in the country starting to move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic, a professor from Maryland's Johns Hopkins University says.

The New Zealand Government moved to do the same thing on Thursday, with drug-buying agency Pharmac confirming another 400,000 Kiwis were now eligible for antiviral medicine, including Paxlovid, to help fight COVID-19. 

Paxlovid was 90 percent effective at reducing COVID-induced hospitalisation and death. 

Amish Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins University's health security centre, told Newshub Nation Paxlovid had a major role to play. 

"It basically makes death and severe disease very, very unlikely so Paxlovid is a major component of how the United States is moving forward with this pandemic," Dr Adalja said. 

"It is a cornerstone for why many people in the United States are confident about our ability to move forward even in the face of something like BA.5." 

BA.5, an Omicron subvariant, was the latest COVID-19 strain to cause widespread waves of infection globally - including in New Zealand where it was set to become the dominant variant in the coming weeks

The New Zealand Government's antivirals announcement came as COVID-19 cases rise in the country and around the world. 

Dr Adalja said Paxlovid was effective against Omicron, Delta and all other COVID-19 variants.

Closer to home, experts are praising the Government's response but have said it still needs to be easier to access antivirals.

Figures obtained by Newshub Nation showed about 8000 courses of Paxlovid had been dispensed of the 60,000 on order.

Kurt Krause, an infectious disease expert from the University of Otago, said that needed to be improved.

"It's great what the Government has done - but they needed to do something, right? Because they had this big influx in COVID and we have this medicine that's 90 percent effective, as you've heard, at preventing hospitlisation or death," Prof Krause told Newshub Nation host Simon Shepherd. 

"We really haven't done a good job at utilising it. It's important that we take steps to correct that now."

Prof Krause said it would be "tragic" should the antivirals expire.

"We acquired them, that's a great thing - let's make sure we get them into the hands of the people that need them," he said.

"Liberalising it is great but let's make it clear how people can raise their hand [to get it]."

In a statement, Health New Zealand chief medical officer David Hughes said the remaining antiviral treatment courses were expected to be delivered through the remainder of this year.

"Pharmac is working with Te Whatu Ora - Health New Zealand - and the Ministry of Health to closely monitor the usage and availability of antiviral treatments in the country to understand when additional stock may be required," Dr Hughes said.

"While the global demand for COVID-19 treatments, including antivirals remains high, Pharmac is able to order additional stock subject to negotiation with the suppliers.

"Timeframes for ordering additional stock are dependent on availability and Pharmac continues to work closely with the suppliers so this can be considered for future orders."

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