New “game-changing” Covid treatments, which cut the risk of serious illness from the virus and have been praised by at-risk patients as “brilliant”, have been provided to more than 32,000 patients since being introduced for patients outside of hospital in December.
The drug known as paxlovid is an antiviral medicine that stops SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid) from multiplying in the body. This keeps virus levels in the body low and helps the immune system to overcome the viral infection.
The drug was found in trials to slash hospitalisation and deaths by 88% and has been given to more than 6,000 patients already, including 1,400 patients receiving the treatment last week alone.
Almost five million doses of paxlovid and other antivirals, such as molnupiravir, have been procured by the government as the fastest and largest vaccination programme in NHS history continues, with the spring booster jab now underway for over-75s and high-risk people in England.
One of the more prominent beneficiaries of paxlovid is Cathy Merry, a Professor of Stem Cell Biology at Nottingham University. The 49-year-old, who lives in Duffield near Derby, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and when she became badly ill with Covid she phoned a helpline for her condition and within hours a clinic at Royal Derby Hospital dispatched a taxi with paxlovid to her home.
Just four days later Cathy was feeling more normal again and said: “Having these treatments available is just brilliant and we are so lucky to have them for free on the NHS. The hospital staff have always been brilliant, but to deal with this so efficiently is absolutely, unbelievably good care. I lived in the US and we are so lucky to have the NHS and the brilliant care they give to us all.”
Cathy’s consultant, Dr Francis Kynaston-Pearson said: “Healthcare professionals and patients alike have been coming to terms with the impact of Covid and how this has re-shaped our lives. This is particularly true for those patients, such as Cathy, who are at higher risk because their immune systems are weaker due to their condition, or the treatments used to control them.”
He added, “It gives me great hope to see new treatments such as paxlovid being introduced to support such vulnerable patients to allow them to start leading their normal lives again.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid described the antivirals as “ground breaking” and concluded by reminding everybody that: “For anyone not in the high-risk group, if you’re aged 50 and over or 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition and test positive, you can sign up to the PANORAMIC study to potentially access this treatment too.”
Clinicians will only be prescribing the drug on a case-by-case basis with free lateral flow tests remaining available for specific groups at higher risk of serious outcomes from the virus.
More information about who can access the treatments is available on the NHS website.