Two Covid-19 drugs will be available for use in hospitals from next week, and at least one will be available for some community cases soon after, according to drug procurement agency Pharmac.
The announcement comes after growing calls from the National Party for the government to speed up access to Covid-19 drugs.
The first drug is Ronapreve – intended for use when people have mild to moderate symptoms and are at high risk of progression to serious disease, said Dr David Hughes, Pharmac’s chief medical officer.
“We would also like to make Ronapreve available for use in the community for people who are profoundly immunocompromised, with mild to moderate symptoms of Covid-19,” he said in a statement.
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“Due to the infectious nature of the disease, we are working with the Ministry of Health to develop how it will be supplied and distributed in the community. Until this mechanism is developed, it will be accessible through DHB hospitals,” he said.
Ronapreve is an injectable solution which safety authority MedSafe approved in December, making it the first new Covid-19 drug to be approved for use in New Zealand.
By December 2021, Pharmac had obtained enough doses to treat 5,300 people and plans to buy more stock this year.
The drug – a monoclonal antibody – can be used in people age 12 and older who weigh at least 40 kilograms, MedSafe said.
MedSafe stressed that it was not intended as an alternative to vaccination and was not suitable for children.
Ronapreve has been shown to be effective against the Delta variant, but research has yet to determine its effectiveness against Omicron.
The second drug available from February 1 is the baricitinib tablet, which can be used in hospital to treat people with moderate to severe symptoms of Covid-19, Pharmac said.
It is already used in New Zealand for arthritis, but MedSafe has not yet approved it to treat Covid-19. This means it must be prescribed under section 25 of the Medicines Act 1981 – which allows licensed clinicians to source unapproved medicine on a case-by-case basis, or use approved medicine for d other conditions for Covid-19.
It can be used instead of tocilizumab – an immunosuppressant already used in New Zealand hospitals, which has been in short supply since September.
Pharmac also has 60,000 doses each of Covid pills molnupiravir, made by Merck Sharp & Dohme, and paxlovid, made by Pfizer, due in April. They are in high demand around the world to reduce the effects of Covid-19 infection, but none have MedSafe approval.
Chief Health Officer Dr Ashley Bloomfield said the Department of Health was in regular contact with Merck Sharp & Dohme over its request for molnupiravir.