Covid-19: South Auckland GPs call for new antiviral drugs in battle against Omicron

Doctors in South Auckland say two new antiviral drugs to treat patients with Covid-19 are now needed in a bid to manage the country’s outbreak of Omicron.

But according to drug buyer Pharmac, the drugs may not be available until April at the earliest.

This follows news that almost 50% of all current Covid-19 cases in New Zealand are in the Manukau Counties District Health Board area.

New data released by the Department of Health shows that 63% of all new daily Covid-19 cases recorded in the Auckland region between February 9 and February 15 were in Manukau counties.

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Pharmac released proposed access criteria for oral antiviral drugs this week Paxlovid and molnupiravirwhich are used to treat Covid-19.

The drugs, which are still awaiting approval from drug regulator Medsafe, work by binding to enzymes to stop the virus from growing and are expected to reduce the number of people hospitalized with coronavirus.

Dr. Api Talemaitoga says new antiviral drugs are needed to help manage the Omicron outbreak.

RYAN ANDERSON/Stuff

Dr. Api Talemaitoga says new antiviral drugs are needed to help manage the Omicron outbreak.

South Auckland GP Dr. Api Talemaitogapresident of the Pasifika GP Network, said doctors on the front lines in Manukau Counties need all the help they can get to manage the Omicron outbreak, and antiviral drugs are needed now.

“We expect a peak in the number of cases in March, so I don’t understand why we might have to wait until after April for these drugs?”

According to Pharmac’s criteria, Maori, Pasifika, some unvaccinated people and immunocompromised groups would be among the first to receive the drugs and Talemaitoga said many of its patients would be eligible.

“We have to use all the tools we have to manage Omicron,” Talemaitoga said.

Dr Primla Khar says that while the drugs will help treat existing patients, they will not help curb the spread of Covid.

Chris McKeen / Stuff

Dr Primla Khar says that while the drugs will help treat existing patients, they will not help curb the spread of Covid.

Papakura’s general practitioner, Dr Primla Khar, agreed and said doctors needed such drugs to treat people with the virus.

“We expect to have to deal with sicker patients, many of whom are unvaccinated, so these drugs could reduce the demand for intensive care beds,” she said. “So these antivirals will be welcome.”

Khar said the main benefit of using these drugs was to help treat those who already have the virus, but admitted they would not help stop its spread.

The co-leader of the National Māori Pandemic Group, Dr Rawiri McKree Jansen, said that even if the new drugs were not available until after April, it would still be useful to have drugs such as Paxlovid to treat cases during the subsequent waves of the virus.

“These drugs will make a real difference to people who catch Covid-19 and are not vaccinated,” he said.

In a statement, Pharmac’s chief medical officer, Dr David Hughes, said he expected the new drugs to arrive in the country between April and June.

“We worked quickly to obtain advance purchase agreements for molnupiravir and Paxlovid. These types of agreements allow companies to commit to delivering to New Zealand and will ensure that these drugs are available as soon as possible.

Hughes said Pharmac had asked suppliers to bring forward their delivery dates for the drugs.

“But it’s important to also recognize that there is significant global demand for these drugs,” he said.

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