Prescription COVID-19 anti-viral medication explained

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Some people who get COVID-19 are more at risk of becoming really sick, and a new prescription medication is now available in Australia for people who need it to control their symptoms.

Key points

  • Prescription medications for COVID-19 have been approved for use in Australia
  • The medications are taken in the form of a pill and can reduce the serious of symptoms of COVID-19
  • You must have a prescription from a doctor and meet some eligibility requirements to be able to get the medication

Not everyone needs this medication, as many people who catch COVID-19 will have mild or moderate symptoms which can be managed at home without prescription medication.

However, the oral anti-viral medication works for adults who are at higher risk of developing worse symptoms to hopefully reduce the chances of them having to be admitted to hospital, for example people with compromised immune systems.

The medication is taken as a pill and you will need to talk to your doctor about whether you might be eligible to have it, as well as whether you might actually need it.

It is a good idea to talk to your doctor about the anti-viral medication soon, so that you know whether you might need it if you do catch the virus and can start the medication as soon as possible after receiving a positive test result.

If your doctor doesn’t think you will be able to get the medication, or they don’t think you will need the medication, they can give you some other tips for managing mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

The medications

There are two oral anti-viral treatments, or medications, that have been approved to treat people with COVID-19 in Australia – Lagevrio and Paxlovid.

There will be 500,000 courses of Paxlovid and 300,000 courses of Lagevrio available in Australia this year.

Both medications must be started within five days of symptoms starting and are taken in the form of pills, twice a day for five days.

Lagevrio is made of molnupiravir, which is an anti-viral medication. It mutates the virus to stop it from multiplying in your body and making you more sick. This limits how severe your symptoms are while your body’s natural systems get rid of the virus.

Paxlovid is two types of medications in separate pills. The first is nirmatrelvir, which affects an enzyme that COVID-19 uses to multiply, and the second is ritonavir, which boosts the effectiveness of nirmatrelvir. Without the enzyme, the virus can’t spread so much in your body and your symptoms are reduced.

If you need either medication to keep your symptoms under control, it is important that you start taking the medication as soon as possible after a COVID-19 positive result to increase the chance of it working.

Availability and eligibility

The medications are not yet available to all Australians, so they are being given to priority groups of people who will benefit most from not being admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

These groups of people include:

  • People with disability – particularly those living in supported accommodation
  • People who are immunocompromised
  • Residents of aged care facilities
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • People living in rural and remote areas with less access to health care

You must have a positive Polymerese Chain Reaction (PCR) test result, or a positive Rapid Antigen Test (RAT) that has been verified by a doctor, as well as a prescription from a doctor to be able to access the medications.

The medications may not work for everyone, for example Paxlovid should not be taken by people with severely reduced kidney function because of the impact it may have on their body, so it is important your doctor knows your health history and all of the other medications you are taking.

Lagevrio has been added to the Government’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) so it will be available at a low cost from pharmacies to those who are eligible.

To access the PBS-subsidised Lagevrio you must be able to start treatment within five days of the start of your symptoms, and either:

  • Be 65 years of age or older, with two other risk factors for severe disease (as increasing age is a risk factor, people who are 75 years of age or older only need to have one other risk factor)
  • Identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and be 50 years of age or older with two other risk factors for severe disease
  • Be moderately to severely immunocompromised

Lagevrio is likely to cost up to $42.50 under the PBS, or $6.80 if you have a concession card.

Local information

The medications have been handed out to either aged care facilities or State and Territory Governments, who are in charge of making sure the medications are used by the people who need them most.

This means each State and Territory has its own information about the treatment.

You can read information about treatment of COVID-19 which is specific to your State or Territory via the links below:

If you live in the Northern Territory you can call the COVID-19 hotline for information on 1800 490 484 and for information specific to Tasmania you can call the Public Health Hotline on 1800 671 738.

Have you had COVID-19? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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