Health Canada Approves Pfizer's Pill To Treat COVID-19

Health Canada has approved Pfizer's (PFE) antiviral treatment for COVID-19 and the drug maker says some of it has already been delivered to Canadian hospitals.

The treatment, known as Paxlovid, is a big step forward to cutting pressure on the healthcare system because it can help prevent high-risk people from ending up in the hospital.

But extremely limited supplies mean the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is asking provinces and territories to prioritize the treatment for people at most risk of serious illness, including immune-compromised patients and some unvaccinated people over the age of 60.

The medication is the first oral COVID-19 treatment that can be taken at home. Until now the only approved treatments had to be given in hospital intravenously or through an injection.

Health Canada has authorized Paxlovid for adults who test positive for COVID-19 on a molecular or a rapid test, who have mild or moderate symptoms and are at high risk of becoming severely ill.

It must be given within five days of infection, and involves taking three pills of two different drugs, twice a day, for five days.

Clinical trials showed the treatment, which helps prevent COVID-19 from reproducing in an infected patient, was almost 90% effective at reducing hospitalization and death in high-risk patients if given within three days of infection, and 85% effective if given within five days.

Doctors in Canada have been anxious to get access to Paxlovid as the Omicron wave is proving to be the most infectious one in the COVID-19 pandemic to date.

However, supply issues will constrain its use for weeks, if not months. Pfizer expects to produce 120 million courses of Paxlovid by the end of this year, including 30 million doses by the end of June. But supply constraints are limiting its use everywhere, including in the U.S. where it was approved almost four weeks ago.

Canada has purchased one million courses of Paxlovid for delivery in 2022.