Live: Pfizer‘s oral antiviral drugs purchased

UPDATE: The government has purchased 60,000 courses of Pfizer's oral antiviral medication to treat early infections of Covid-19, subject to Medsafe approval, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has confirmed.

"Today I can announce that Pharmac has signed an advance purchase agreement for 60,000 courses of Pfizer's oral antiviral treatment," Ardern says.

"It's a big step forward for the management of Covid-19 globally."

Dr Bloomfield, Dr Ian Town and Sarah Fitt from Pharmac will provide a briefing at the end of the week about treatments like this, Ardern says.

She says alongside vaccinations, hospital treatments were already reducing the likelihood of people needing ICU care, with ICU rates in Auckland dropping from the 5.7 per cent of hospitalisations seen early in the pandemic to three per cent.

She says treatments were just one part of the plan, however, and other parts of the strategy must be used to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

"Pfizer's new antiviral has a three-to-five-day window from the beginning of Covid symptoms to be effective – most effective from three days but still with efficacy up to five."

Preventing people from getting the virus in the first place through vaccination and public health measures was still the best way of preventing people from becoming sick with the virus and the possibility of having to go to hospital.

Ardern says New Zealand's total case numbers were about 12,000 - the lowest in all the OECD countries.

She says it was the success of the government's cautious approach.

In a statement, Health Minister Andrew Little confirmed New Zealand had secured 60,000 courses of Pfizer's oral Covid-19 antiviral tablet, which overseas is called Paxlovid.

Medsafe has previously said it is "closely monitoring the developments of Covid-19-related pharmaceuticals overseas, seeking expert advice, and receiving regular updates from other medicines regulatory counterparts".

The pill, if taken early in a person's Covid-19 infection, can prevent people with mild symptoms from becoming very sick or dying.

It is similar to molnupiravir, another oral antiviral which the government had already pre-ordered 60,000 courses of, though that deal is conditional on Medsafe approval.

Antivirals like this are not thought to be effective for patients who have already gone into hospital.

Paxlovid, three pills taken twice a day for five days, was shown in studies to reduce hospitalisation by about 89 per cent in early studies, with trials stopped early because it would be unethical to continue giving a placebo to people with Covid-19 when this drug was proving so effective.

Little says the $175 million allocated by the government for medicines and supply chain costs and $300m for purchasing more Covid-19 therapeutics made sure Pharmac could "continue to secure early access to new and promising Covid medicines as soon as possible".

"Both drugs are still subject to approval by Medsafe, but trials look promising, and by securing access to both we are doing everything possible to make sure New Zealanders have available medicines that are easy to administer and prevent most people who contract Covid-19 from being so sick they need to go to hospital."

He says vaccinations, mask use and contact tracing including through the Tracer app were still the best ways of stopping the spread of Covid-19 but it was also important to ensure there was a supply of medicine to treat those who did become ill.

Little says the drug was expected to be delivered to New Zealand in April, once approved by MedSafe.

With cases from the current outbreak expected to peak in January, particularly with the loosening of restrictions in Auckland and travel of Aucklanders around the country, experts have questioned whether antivirals like this would arrive in time to help.

Traffic light system

Ardern says ahead of the review of traffic light settings next Monday, some 88 per cent of the eligible population was fully vaccinated and 93 per cent had had a first dose.

"As a nation, we are projected to hit 90 per cent double dosed on the 14 or 15 of December as the Auckland boundary changes," she says.

Earlier today Ardern told Morning Report the Covid-19 traffic light system had received largely positive feedback this weekend.

She says there had not been reports of widespread issues with fake Covid-19 vaccine passes being used to navigate around the system and that government would remain in contact with the Business Association to work out any problems that may arise.

National Party leader Christopher Luxon has questioned the government's call to put Auckland into the red setting under the traffic light system.


Earlier: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Director of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield will provide a post-Cabinet briefing today at 4pm.

Earlier today Ardern told RNZ that the Traffic Light System has received positive feedback from across the country.

Cabinet is not set to review the current traffic light settings until Monday 13 December.

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