Pharmac widens access for COVID-19 antiviral treatments

Media release Medicines COVID-19

Te Pātaka Whaioranga - Pharmac has confirmed today that it is further widening access to the three antiviral treatments it funds for treating early COVID-19 to more than 400,000 more New Zealanders if they get the virus.

Pharmac funds nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (branded as Paxlovid), molnupiravir (branded as Lagevrio) and remdesivir, an infusion treatment (branded as Veklury) – all antivirals used in the community and Te Whatu Ora Hospitals to treat people with early COVID-19 at risk of severe illness.

“We want to ensure that more New Zealanders could benefit from these treatments by accessing them,” says Pharmac’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr David Hughes. “These antivirals reduce the risk of severe illness, which helps takes pressure off our health system.”

“We have heard from the health sector that uptake of the antivirals has been lower than expected, and while there is plenty of stock available, some people at high risk of severe illness following COVID-19 infection who could benefit from these treatments are unable to access them. These concerns are increased by rising COVID-19 case numbers with the emergence of the BA.5 subvariant of Omicron in New Zealand. This could result insignificantly increasing case numbers and hospitalisations over the next few weeks.”

“Effective from Monday 18 July 2022, the access criteria for the antiviral treatments for COVID-19 will be widened to include a larger priority population of people at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 infection,” says Dr Hughes. “This includes all people aged 75 years and over and those who have been admitted previously to an Intensive Care Unit directly as a result of COVID-19. The number of factors Māori and Pacific Peoples are required to have to access these antiviral treatments will reduce, with greater emphasis placed on factors that are most predictive of poor outcomes from COVID-19 infection including age and vaccination status.”

“Pharmac initially widened access to COVID-19 antivirals in early May 2022 ensuring the people at highest risk would have access to these treatments. The changes announced today expand on this and will allow significantly more people to access these treatments.”

“We want to see every Kiwi who gets COVID-19 and is eligible for funded antivirals to make use of these treatments. With winter offering up the usual mix of colds and flu and COVID-19 present in the community we want as many New Zealanders as possible to stay well. We expect that widening the access to these treatments will help do that,” concludes Dr Hughes.

Learn more

You can read all about the available and soon to be available COVID-19 treatments on our website.

New Zealand's COVID-19 treatment portfolio

Treatments for COVID-19 are funded using money from the Government’s COVID-19 response fund rather than from the Combined Pharmaceutical Budget.

Pronunciation guide

Molnupiravir: mole-new-pear-aveer

Nirmatrelvir with ritonavir: Nirma-trel-veer with rit-on-a-veer

Paxlovid: pax-low-vid

Remdesivir: Rem-des-eh-veer