- Two new oral COVID-19 treatments have been approved for use in Australia
- These medications prevent the COVID-19 virus from multiplying in the body, reducing the severity of the virus as well as hospitalisation and death
- The medication is mostly available for priority groups, like older people and those living in aged care
Now, further treatment is available targeting COVID-19 in adults, and can be beneficial to people who may be at risk of being hospitalised or death due to the virus.
Rather than putting up with the worst of what COVID-19 offers, older people may be able to access oral antiviral treatments to help with the severity of the virus.
Older Australians have priority access to the oral treatments to ensure the best outcomes from the virus.
What drugs have been approved?
Two COVID-19 oral treatments have been approved in Australia so far, Lagevrio® (molnupiravir) – made by Merck Sharp & Dohme Australia – and Paxlovid® (nirmatrelvir + ritonavir) – made by Pfizer Australia.
Australia joins the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States of America, and Japan in approving oral treatments for the virus.
Both oral medications, Lagevrio and Paxlovid, are effective at treating people 18 and over who have mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.
These products have received provisional approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), and should only be used by adults who have COVID-19 but do not have any symptoms that require emergency oxygen in hospital.
The oral anti-viral treatments reduce the risk of someone entering hospital or dying due to COVID-19.
While these treatments can assist with the severity of COVID-19, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the medication is for everyone. You should talk to your doctor, who will determine if this is the best course of action for you.
These medications will bolster the other treatments that are currently being used to treat mild to severe cases of COVID-19, Xevudy (sotrovimab) and Veklury (remdesivir).
How does the medication work?
These medications aim to be used early into a COVID-19 infection to prevent the virus from developing into a serious illness. Additionally, the treatment can help make sure you remain in your own home or current living setting, like aged care, and not need to be moved into hospital for further treatment.
Once you have been tested and found positive for COVID-19, you should start taking the medication as soon as possible if you are eligible.
The Lagevrio brand is in a capsule form, whereas the Paxlovid brand is two tablets. Both of these oral medications have instructions to be taken every 12 hours for a straight five-day period. The two Paxlovid tablets, of different types of medication, should be taken at the same time when it needs to be administered.
Lagevrio can prevent the COVID-19 virus from multiplying in you, because this medication prevents the multiplying of the virus, it will prevent severe symptoms and allow your body to fight and flush out the virus.
The Paxlovid consists of two tablets with different medications that need to be taken together to assist with fighting COVID-19 once it is in the body. The first tablet, the nirmatrelvir, prevents COVID-19 from multiplying and the second tablet, the ritonavir, makes sure the first tablet works as effectively as possible.
Since the enzyme in COVID-19 is prevented from multiplying because of the Paxlovid tablets, the virus cannot spread throughout the body and cause worse symptoms.
Eligibility and access
The antiviral treatments are for COVID-19 positive people who are:
- 70 years or older
- 50 years or older with two risk factors
- 30 years or older with two risk factors if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
Risk factors include:
- Being a resident in aged care or living in supported accommodation
- If you live with disability and have multiple conditions
- Have neurological conditions, like dementia
- Living with chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Are obese or live with diabetes that requires medication
- Have heart failure or heart diseases, or kidney failure
- Live in a remote area that doesn’t have good access to healthcare
To be considered for this treatment, you will need to be considered at high risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms before getting a prescription for the oral antiviral medicine.
If you live in aged care, you can expect to access antiviral treatments through your provider if you contract COVID-19.
It is likely that the antiviral available in your facility will be Lagevrio – due to an Australian Government partnership with aged care homes, and your prescription will be filled by your facility doctor or authorised nurse practitioner.
If you live in the community, you can get a prescription from your doctor. It can be a good idea to notify your doctor early on that you want to access antivirals if you contract COVID-19. Otherwise, you will have to go through the process of understanding all the side effects and giving consent for the medication.
You can receive your prescription for anti-viral medication electronically, which you can provide to a family member or friend to collect on your behalf. You can also have the medication delivered directly to your home.
The Lagevrio medication was made available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from 1 March, and Paxlovid was made available on the PBS from 1 May 2022.
The Lagevrio and Paxlovid antivirals can cost up to $42.50 through the PBS, however, if you have a concession card, it can cost around $6.80.
For more information
The oral treatments have been provided directly to aged care facilities and State/Territory Governments to ensure they are getting to the people who need it most.
So there is a lot of information available through State and Territory Governments on the COVID-19 treatments, eligibility and accessibility, including:
- Australia Capital Territory
- New South Wales
- Northern Territory – Call the COVID-19 hotline on 1800 490 484
- South Australia
- Tasmania – Call the Tasmania Public Health Hotline – 1800 671 738
- Western Australia
The Government have reiterated that while this treatment is available for COVID-19 infected people, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself against the virus.
Have you heard of these COVID-19 treatments before? Tell us in the comments below.
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