New Brunswick

N.B. expands eligibility, access to Paxlovid COVID-19 treatment

New Brunswick has expanded eligibility and access to the oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid.

Drug available to certain adults, pharmacists can now assess and prescribe, says Department of Health

Paxlovid is Canada’s first oral antiviral treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults who do not require hospitalization and are at high risk of progressing to serious illness. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

New Brunswick has expanded eligibility and access to the oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid.

Anyone over 18 who has tested positive for COVID-19 within the past five days, is experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, and is at higher risk of severe outcomes, can now be assessed and possibly prescribed Paxlovid by a pharmacist.

People may be at higher risk of severe outcomes if they are moderately or severely immunocompromised due to illness or treatment, have one or more chronic illness, are an older adult, or not fully vaccinated.

Until now, eligibility was limited to people who had tested positive within the past five days and were:

  • 80 years of age and older.
  • 50 to 79 years old and not fully vaccinated.
  • 50 to 79 years old and living in a long-term care home, receiving home-care services, or of First Nations descent.
  • 18 years of age or older and moderately to severely immunocompromised. This included:   
    • Has cancer, or did within the past six months.
    • Had an organ or stem cell transplant.
    • Has moderate to severe immunodeficiency, or advanced, untreated HIV.
    • Had moderate to severe immunosuppressive treatment, such as medications that suppress the immune system, or a high dose of systemic corticosteroids, or other drugs.

In addition, New Brunswickers had to see a physician or nurse practitioner within five days of the onset of symptoms to find out if they were eligible for the treatment.

Now, pharmacists are authorized to assess patients and prescribe the drug.

"The change is intended to make it easier for eligible patients to access this option," the Department of Health said in a news release Thursday.

The drug must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms.

Only 2,465 New Brunswickers have been prescribed Paxlovid to date, according to the Department of Health.

The province has received 14,500 treatment courses of the drug from the federal government, said spokesperson Adam Bowie.

New Brunswick has actually used a higher proportion of its Paxlovid than most other provinces, according to information obtained by CBC News from health ministries across Canada. Only P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador have used a larger share of their supplies.

The department confirmed last week it was "examining ways to improve access to the oral antiviral" and would have more details to share this week.

The change follows a collaboration with the New Brunswick College of Pharmacists and the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association to establish a new assessment and prescribing option for the treatment, the department said.

A list of participating pharmacies is available online.

Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 per cent in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19, compared to a placebo during its clinical trial, according to Pfizer.

A full course of treatment consists of 30 pills over five days.

Paxlovid does not stop people from getting COVID-19 and is not a substitute for vaccination, the province's COVID-19 website advises.

With files from Mike Crawley