COVID-19 drug to ‘reduce hospitalisations’ listed on PBS ahead of close contact rule change

COVID-19 drug to ‘reduce hospitalisations’ listed on PBS ahead of close contact rule change

Australians at risk of severe COVID-19 will soon be able to access two drugs that can lessen the disease’s impact through their GP after the federal government listed a second anti-viral treatment on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

Health Minister Greg Hunt will announce the PBS listing of Paxlovid, a combination of the drugs nirmatrelvir and ritonavir, on Saturday, as state governments prepare to scrap close contact rules once the Omicron BA.2 wave of infections has subsided.

Paxlovid has been listed on the PBS for at-risk groups.Credit:Bloomberg

Eligible adults who test positive to COVID-19 through a PCR or rapid antigen test will be able to get Paxlovid, which can prevent severe disease if taken within five days of onset, from their local pharmacy with a GP prescription from next month.

“This medicine will help reduce the need for hospital admission,” Mr Hunt said.

Lagevrio, the trade name for molnupiravir – another anti-viral used to treat COVID-19 – was listed on the PBS on March 1 and has since been used to treat about 5000 patients. Both listings followed the recommendation of the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

Mr Hunt said the anti-viral PBS listings would support the national plan to transition Australia’s COVID-19 response, which outlines the steps to remove all remaining coronavirus restrictions in the community.

State and territory governments have agreed to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s recommendation that close contact isolation rules be scrapped when it is safe to do so.

Paxlovid will be available on the PBS from May 1 to people aged 65 or older, with two other risk factors for severe disease, or one factor for those aged 75 and over. It will also be subsidised for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander patients aged 50 or over with two other risk factors and patients who are moderately to severely immunocompromised.

Patients will pay a maximum of $42.50 a script and $6.80 with a concession card.

Mr Hunt said it was important that patients “continue to follow local health guidance to isolate if they test positive for COVID-19”.

“It’s recommended they use telehealth to consult their doctor and ask their pharmacy to arrange for Paxlovid to be delivered to their home, if necessary,” he said.

The federal government has access to 1 million courses of Paxlovid, with 500,000 arriving last year and a further 500,000 secured for delivery throughout 2022 for supply through both state and territory health departments and the PBS. More can be procured if needed.

Paxlovid is already available to COVID-19 patients through state health hospitals, which can access it through the national medical stockpile, and patients ineligible under the PBS can still be treated with the drug through this pathway, which has been used 42,867 times.

It is also available through Aboriginal Controlled Community Health Organisations and the Royal Flying Doctor Service for use in people at risk of severe disease.

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