Nova Scotia

COVID-19 antiviral treatment arrives in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia says 900 treatment packages of the COVID-19 antiviral drug have landed in the province, but plans for prescribing Paxlovid are still being finalized.

Pfizer's Paxlovid will first be offered to the most vulnerable in the province

Pfizer's COVID-19 pill is seen manufactured in Ascoli, Italy, in this handout photo on Nov. 16, 2021. (Pfizer/Reuters)

Nova Scotia says 900 treatment packages of the COVID-19 antiviral drug have landed in the province, but plans for prescribing Paxlovid are still being finalized.

The Health and Wellness Department said it is working to make the supply available "as soon as possible," and details about the distribution of Pfizer's Paxlovid are still being worked out with stakeholders including Nova Scotia Health.

Earlier this week, Health Canada approved the oral antiviral treatment designed to help the body fight off the virus, reduce symptoms from an infection and shorten the period of illness.

Dr. Lisa Barrett, who treats COVID-19 patients and will prescribe the therapeutic once it starts rolling out, said a plan for distribution could take another few weeks.

But she said the first 900 treatment packages will help 900 people. The drug is taken twice a day for five days. 

Dr. Lisa Barrett is an infectious disease specialist based out of Dalhousie University in Halifax. (CBC)

It will be made available to the most vulnerable, including those who are not fully vaccinated for one reason or another and people over the age of 50 who have a risk factor such as being a transplant or cancer patient. 

"We're hoping that it's going to make a difference for the most vulnerable people," said Barrett in an interview on Thursday.

"This is for people at the highest risk of disease and we don't want them to have to shield anymore at home."

Barrett noted the medication is designed to reduce hospitalization and death. The hope is that it will help alleviate pressures on the health-care system, she said.

Recognizing the limitations

She also said the fact that the drug is only trickling into the province at this point does not concern her because it was studied on unvaccinated people who were at high risk with the Delta variant. 

"It's not clear yet if there is as much of a benefit to preventing hospitalization and death in people who are partly vaccinated, but not fully, against Omicron," said Barrett.

"I want people to be aware we're not completely devastated that we don't have hundreds of thousands of doses of this because we think it's helpful but not for the whole population.

"It's good to recognize the limitations of the data and where we sit right now."

Barrett said those in the vulnerable population group should be tested as soon as possible if they have symptoms and report any positive results to Public Health and their doctor.

Doctors will be able to refer their patients to receive the drug. Those referrals will be reviewed and the patient will be contacted about how to receive the treatment.

She said outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care homes will also be monitored as a way of identifying people at risk who may need the treatment. 

Recent approval of drug 'great news'

On Monday, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Health Canada's approval was "great news" because Paxlovid could drive down severe outcomes in the current wave and beyond.

Paxlovid combines a new drug developed by Pfizer called nirmatrelvir with an existing antiretroviral drug named ritonavir, a low-dose HIV drug that helps nirmatrelvir remain active in the body longer.

After months of clinical trials, Pfizer reported in November that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89 per cent compared to a placebo in non-hospitalized high-risk adults with COVID-19.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aly Thomson

Reporter/Editor

Aly Thomson is an award-winning journalist based in Halifax who loves helping the people of her home province tell their stories. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding justice, education and the entertainment industry. You can email her with tips and feedback at aly.thomson@cbc.ca.

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