10 Dec 2021

NZ purchases 120,000 courses of Covid antiviral medicine

6:50 pm on 10 December 2021

Health authorities have ordered 120,000 courses of antivirals to combat mild to moderate Covid cases.

Ministry of health

Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The joint effort from the Ministry of Health and Pharmac comes as overseas cases spike during the northern winter.

It's hoped the combination of high vaccination rates, more medicine options, and the booster shot will prepare New Zealand in time for our next winter.

New Zealand's drug agency has ordered 60,000 courses of two tablet medications, in the race to secure treatments for Covid-19.

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt says two of the new medicines involve taking a 5-day course of pills, and it's also looking at a third treatment, which can be given intravenously or by injection.

"That brings our suite of treatments secured so far to six - three of them are already in use in the hospitals and three of them are subject to Medsafe approval, we're hoping to secure stock of those next year."

Fitt said Pharmac hadn't yet determined who would be eligible for the drugs, but supplies would be limited.

Ministry of Health chief science advisor Dr Ian Town said New Zealand currently uses pre-existing medications for severe to critical cases.

He said the new medicines would help prevent cases from getting to that stage.

"If we can have a drug that's made available to someone with a recent diagnosis of Covid-19, then we're able to perhaps slow the progression of the condition and prevent them needing more intensive medical care or even ending up in hospital."

Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the current outbreak in Europe is the equivalent of New Zealand having between 3000 to 4000 cases and 10 to 20 deaths a day.

He said these numbers are related to the area currently being in winter, and said local agencies were working to secure the new medicines before the next New Zealand winter.

"One of the things we're turning our minds to is how do we prepare for next winter," Dr Bloomfield said.

"Our treatments, and making sure we've got those available will be a key part of that."

The authorities said modelling here and overseas, in countries such as Ireland, had guided Pharmac on the amount of drugs it's ordered.

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