COVID-19 pill used to treat 83 Manitobans

Test-and-treat strategy outlined

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Eighty-three Manitobans have been prescribed the antiviral COVID-19 pill since it became available here last month — and many more could be eligible.

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This article was published 09/02/2022 (290 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Eighty-three Manitobans have been prescribed the antiviral COVID-19 pill since it became available here last month — and many more could be eligible.

A “test and treat” strategy is the way forward for Manitoba’s COVID-19 response, the province’s deputy top doctor said Wednesday.

That approach requires fast access to tests and antiviral medication for Manitobans who have underlying conditions that put them at a higher risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.

PFIZER VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS, FILE Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid became available in Manitoba on Jan. 19. Of the initial 1,100 shipment, 83 doses have been prescribed.

Deputy chief provincial public health officer Dr. Jazz Atwal urged higher-risk Manitobans to get tested quickly after symptoms appear; there’s a five- to seven-day window in which available COVID-19 treatments are most effective.

“We are transitioning here to a ‘test and treat’ sort of scenario,” he said, adding public health is trying to identify high-risk Manitobans who are eligible for treatment with an antiviral pill or intravenous monoclonal antibody treatment.

“That’s very important here. That’s how we’re going to mitigate risks related to COVID-19. That is the direction that we’re heading, and I think that is the best way to help prevent severe outcomes as well, considering everything that we’ve gone through to this point.”

The province set out five categories of COVID-positive Manitobans who qualify for the treatment, but Atwal said people may not know they are eligible.

“A lot of people, I think, don’t realize they’re at higher risk,” he said. “If you’re a smoker, you’re at higher risk of having a severe outcome from COVID-19. If you’re a 30-year-old diabetic, you’re at higher risk of having a severe outcome from COVID-19. If you have an underlying heart or lung condition, or a renal condition or a liver condition, you are at higher risk… and the greater number of these conditions you have, the greater the risk that you have.”

(Eligibility criteria are posted on the province’s website: http://wfp.to/1C9)

Because of the five- to seven-day window in which to access treatment, Manitobans must quickly determine whether they have COVID-19, and whether they qualify for treatment. Then, they have to contact their doctor or Health Links to get a referral for treatment.

Shared Health provides a referral form for health-care providers to use, but there’s no online process for patients to self-refer. The province’s website instructs the public to call Health Links if they’ve been given a referral for treatment but haven’t been able to get an appointment at a clinic within 24 hours.

Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid became available in Manitoba on Jan. 19. Of the initial 1,100 shipment, 83 doses have been prescribed. The monoclonal antibody treatment started being offered to unvaccinated Manitobans Dec. 20 and has been administered 467 times, mostly in the Winnipeg health region, Shared Health said.

JAMES SNELL / POOL Dr. Jazz Atwal said the province has a testing strategy that will will “continue to be refined,” but he didn’t promise to broaden the availability of PCR tests or rapid antigen tests, noting there’s still a lack of rapid test supply.

Supply of both treatments is limited, so only a select group of Manitobans qualifies. More supply of Paxlovid is expected in the coming months, a Shared Health spokesman stated.

Asked about expanding testing access in Manitoba, considering the urgency for those at high risk to get treated, Atwal said “testing is widely available.”

He said the province has a testing strategy that will will “continue to be refined,” but he didn’t promise to broaden the availability of PCR tests or rapid antigen tests, noting there’s still a lack of rapid test supply.

“Things are being worked on in relation to our testing strategy… once we have more announcements to make, we will provide that to the public,” he said.

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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