Kiwis have been left waiting for a new antiviral drug to treat Covid-19 because Pharmac was too slow to sign a supply contract with the manufacturer, a patient advocacy group says.
But Pharmac says despite MedSafe giving Pfizer’s Paxlovid the green light this month, it is the sheer demand for the medicine globally which is holding up delivery.
In February, Pharmac released the proposed access criteria for oral antiviral drugs Paxlovid and molnupiravir, which are used to treat Covid-19.
The drugs, which at the time were still awaiting approval from drug regulator Medsafe, work by binding to enzymes to prevent the virus from growing. They can be prescribed by GPs and are expected to reduce the numbers of people hospitalised with the virus.
In February, Pharmac’s chief medical officer Dr David Hughes said the delivery of the drugs would be some time between April and June. He said Pharmac had asked the suppliers to bring forward their delivery dates for the drugs.
But doctors on the front line in Counties Manukau said they needed all the help they could get to manage the Omicron outbreak, and the antiviral drugs were needed now.
Patient Voice Aotearoa spokesman Malcolm Mulholland was sceptical about Pharmac’s explanation for the delays.
“Pharmac has a two-step process. In December it announced it had an agreement for supply,” he said.
“But it was only recently that it entered into a supply contract and that’s when the rubber really hits the road. Why did Pharmac enter into it so late when we already had Omicron here?”
In a statement, Pharmac’s chief medical officer Dr David Hughes didn’t respond to Mulholland’s comments, but said the Crown entity had secured advance purchase agreements for molnupiravir and Paxlovid.
“These agreements have allowed us to secure supply of these sought-after treatments and will ensure they are available in New Zealand as soon as possible.
“Paxlovid has now been approved by Medsafe for use in New Zealand, and we are anticipating it being in New Zealand shortly.”
He said there was significant global demand for the drug and it was working with Pfizer to get it into New Zealand as soon as possible.
“Pharmac and Pfizer agreed on an interim delivery schedule at the time the advance purchase agreement was signed in December.
“We are working with Pfizer to complete the final requirements detailed in the advance purchase agreement so that shipment can be made at the earliest opportunity.”
A Pharmac spokeswoman refused to say when Pharmac had signed a final supply contract for the drug with Pfizer, citing commercial sensitivity.
South Auckland GP Dr Api Talemaitoga said there weren’t any antivirals that GPs could prescribe for Covid-19, and they were only used once someone has been admitted to hospital.
“I think we should be intervening with these drugs at a primary healthcare level,” he said.
“You need to do it within a short period of time of someone becoming ill because by the time someone ends up in hospital they’ve usually been sick for a while.”
Talemaitoga said while Omicron case numbers appeared to have peaked in Auckland, the number of people being hospitalised with the virus had not.
He said the antiviral drugs could also help reduce the pressure on hospitals.