There are 30,000 cycles of the COVID-19 Paxlovid treatment in pharmacies and storage locations in British Columbia, with only 2,500 ever dispensed in the province, CTV News has learned. The situation has been blamed in part on the shortage of doctors.
The antiviral pills, which must be taken for five days, are only approved for certain people considered to be at higher risk of serious illness from the virus: those deemed clinically extremely vulnerable, Indigenous people over 50, unvaccinated people over 50 and people 70 or older with chronic illnesses.
The drug must be started within five days of the onset of mild to moderate symptoms and also requires a positive COVID-19 test, either through laboratory PCR methods or through the rapid home tests available free of charge at many pharmacies.
“A large supply-to-delivery ratio does not necessarily reflect underutilization or lack of access to treatment,” the Department of Health wrote in an email outlining the statistics.
“There are reasons why Paxlovid may not be a good choice for some people, such as certain pre-existing conditions and multiple interactions with other medications.”
But CTV News has spoken to several frontline doctors expressing concern that due to massive demand and reduced numbers of doctors, they may not be able to see patients within the five-day window; something they find particularly concerning at a time when the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is rising and British Columbians continue to die after being infected.
In addition to issues with quick access to an assessment, physicians also expressed frustration that a special form required to authorize a prescription for Paxlovid was unnecessarily complex and involved, taking up to 20 minutes to research, complete and fax to a pharmacy.
CTV News has repeatedly asked to speak to the provincial health officer or another Department of Health representative about the matter since Monday, but no one has been made available.
PHYSICIANS ASSOCIATION SUPPORTS ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA
Doctors of BC, the association that speaks on behalf of physicians in the province, would like to remind the public that although studies show Paxlovid reduces the risk of someone ending up in hospital with a severe case of COVID- 19, vaccination remains the best prevention. , because the drug is only intended for people at high risk.
“Whenever there is a new drug, from a safety profile, we need to be sure the right people get it at the right time and in the right place,” the organization’s president-elect said. , Dr. Josh Greggain.
“As with anything in medicine, we keep asking ourselves, ‘Should everyone have this? Do some people understand? Some people get it for short time? If you’re better, is it too late?'”
He added that some medications conflict with Paxlovid and could cause a doctor to reject it as a treatment option.
Greggain suggested that people with COVID who think they might be eligible for Paxlovid but are having trouble reaching a doctor should call the province’s 811 HealthLink line to see if they can get the drug, which is free across British Columbia
LONG DELAYS THROUGH THE PROVINCIAL SYSTEM
The Department of Health has also suggested that those without timely access to a doctor call Services BC, but that line has also been plagued with long delays.
A candidate for president of the Canadian Medical Association is among a growing number of people taking to social media to describe days of waiting to find out if and when they can access Paxlovid treatment.
A former nurse contacted CTV News on the ninth day of waiting for a callback from the helpline, where staff told her not to attempt any follow-up calls herself.
“I’m livid,” said Carrie Mae Garber, who lives with her elderly mother and is clinically extremely vulnerable herself. “If someone like me, with my experience in the health care system, with my privileges, my education and being white, hasn’t come back – what about those people who don’t have no family doctor and can’t do all that?”
She was able to work with her family doctor to determine that she was eligible for Paxlovid despite taking a medication that could conflict with the antiviral and now feels better.
About a million British Columbians don’t have a family doctor, and the province’s walk-in clinics reached their patient limit early in the day, so the issue of access to Paxlovid in the window five-day processing period is likely to continue unless the province changes its policy.
Meanwhile, pharmacists in Quebec have been allowed to prescribe the tablets to eligible patients for the past month.