By: Aditi Dwivedi, News Writer
With the onset of the winter season, and a surging triple-demic of respiratory illnesses, the organization Protect Our Province BC released an open letter addressed to the provincial leaders. The letter calls for the immediate relaxation of BC’s restrictive eligibility policies, and increase in access to Paxlovid, for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19.
Paxlovid, also known as Nirmatrelvir and Ritonavir, is an oral antiviral medication developed by Pfizer, to stop the virus from multiplying and encourage a faster recovery. Paxlovid has proved effective against Omicron and its sub variants, in both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients. However, some have noted that Paxlovid is being drastically underused in BC despite its potential for positive outcomes.
Dr. Lyne Filiatrault, a retired emergency physician and a member of Protect Our Province BC said in an interview with The Peak, “Your access to tools in the fight against COVID-19 should not be determined by the province you live in.”
In provinces such as New Brunswick, the requirements for access to Paxlovid are being 18 years and older and having one medical condition. In BC, there are a few specific requirements for access. This includes an age of 70 years and older, and three medical conditions, people who are “clinically vulnerable,” or those who are Indigenous, among others. BC has the most specific criteria compared to other provinces in the country.
Filiatrault said the public health leaders of BC believe patients are primarily contracting mild COVID-19 infections. However, the number of COVID-19 related deaths this year in BC is more in number than the deaths of 2020 and 2021 combined. Filiatrault noted, “I think it aligns with the entire management of the pandemic in BC.” She further stated the provincial administration of BC “have been gatekeeping the access to rapid antigen tests, access to PCR tests, access to four doses, and now to Paxlovid, and it’s almost been all along the pandemic.”
The federal government granted access to 70,000 doses of Paxlovid to the province of BC but until September 2022, only 12,000 of those doses could be prescribed to patients under the eligibility criteria. One of the potential solutions suggested by the Protect Our Province BC is to also allow pharmacists, along with clinicians and family doctors, to prescribe the medication, like other provinces of Canada have done.
On December 16, the BC CDC website for clinicians was updated with a broader list of conditions to be met for access to the medication. However, Filiatrault said most clinicians, pharmacists, and potential patients are not aware of these changes because they were brought in quietly, and without adequate publicity. Additionally, she pointed out they are “also including some of the social determinants of health, though limiting it to a single racialized community or Indigenous community; they are not looking at other communities of colour that are marginalized. We are calling on them to expand that.”
Like most drugs, Paxlovid has limitations and potential risks for its users. For instance, patients with liver and kidney problems should not be prescribed the drug. According to Protect our Province BC, a discourse around the disadvantages and positive effects of the drug needs to be established which is only possible once medical practitioners and patients gain required awareness about the drug.
Studies are currently investigating whether Paxlovid might be helpful for prevention of long COVID and the reduction of related symptoms like heart diseases, blood clots, and neurocognitive disorders.