Access to COVID-19 antiviral treatments widened for more people at risk

Media release COVID-19 Medicines

Te Pātaka Whaioranga – Pharmac is widening access to COVID-19 antivirals to people who are vulnerable to severe infection from COVID-19, including those with disabilities and with one or more severe health conditions.

“We know antivirals can reduce the severity of illness for people at most risk from COVID-19 infection, so we’re pleased more people who need them will be able to access them,” says Pharmac’s Chief Medical Officer Dr David Hughes.

From 1 October 2023 the access criteria to COVID-19 antiviral treatments will be widened to include:

  • people receiving disability support services
  • people with one or more severe health conditions that have resulted in severe frailty or vulnerability

How to access disability support services - Whaikaha Ministry for Disabled People(external link)

The decision covers all treatments currently available including nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (branded as Paxlovid), remdesivir (branded as Veklury), and molnupiravir (branded as Lagevrio).

“We considered the substantial amount of feedback received in response to the consultation, along with evidence and data from healthcare practitioners and Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People to make these changes. We have summarised how we have come to this decision in the notification.”

To help interpret the access criteria, Pharmac has developed a list of conditions to determine if a person is severely immunocompromised and to identify those at high-risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

“We want to make sure that healthcare practitioners can identify who would benefit from accessing these treatments. We hope the updated criteria and health conditions list will help this.”

“We continue to encourage them to prescribe nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (branded as Paxlovid) and remdesivir (branded as Veklury) as the reccomended antiviral treatments for COVID-19 in New Zealand,” concludes Dr Hughes.

Pharmac will continue to review the access to and availability of treatments that protect against illness from COVID-19 as it continues to be present in our communities.