A further 4.25 million courses of Covid antivirals have been secured for the UK in a bid to help tackle Omicron
The new deals have been accelerated in light of the new variant, with the aim of protecting vulnerable people over the coming months.
It is hoped the move will help reduce hospital admissions and therefore ease pressures on the NHS
Antivirals are used to either treat those who are infected with a virus or sometimes protect someone who has been exposed from becoming infected.
They target the virus at an early stage, preventing progression to more severe, or even critical, symptoms.
The UK Government has signed new contracts for 1.75 million additional courses of Merck Sharp and Dohme’s (MSD) molnupiravir (Lagevrio), and 2.5 million additional courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir (Paxlovid) from Pfizer.
They will be available from early next year and are both expected to be effective against Omicron.
The new courses are in addition to the procurement of 480,000 courses of molnupiravir and 250,000 courses of PF-07321332/ritonavir announced in October.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid, said: “Our Covid-19 booster programme continues at unparalleled pace and it’s vital we further bolster our national response to the virus by ensuring access to the world’s best treatments too.
“This is a mammoth deal for the UK Government and for patients across the country that are set to benefit from these antivirals over the coming months.
“If you’re aged 50 and over or have an underlying health condition and test positive for Covid-19, sign up to the study as soon as you can and take advantage of this remarkable treatment.”
Both antivirals in our current portfolio could be vital tools against Omicron
Eddie Gray, Antivirals Taskforce
Molnupiravir is already being rolled out to hundreds of patients through the national Panoramic study, run by the University of Oxford in collaboration with GP hubs.
Professor Chris Butler, who is leading the Panoramic trial, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: “There have been smallish trials conducted in largely unvaccinated people, largely before the new variant emerged, showing some exciting results.
“But we need more effectiveness studies in the UK in our current population that is largely vaccinated and with the current variant circulating. So we’re doing a large scale trial to see if the results from the smaller efficacy studies play out in real world clinical practice here in the UK at the current time.”
When asked if it could be that in a couple of months GP will start prescribing antivirals, Prof Butler said: “Yes, indeed. When that evidence is there, I’m sure the NHS will be implementing very rapid plans for deployment at scale.”
Last week, deployment of the antiviral outside the clinical trial began in those at highest risk, such as immunocompromised or cancer patients, after they tested positive.
From Monday, the antibody treatment sotrovimab (Xevudy) was also being made available to this group of patients.
Clinical trials suggest molnupiravir can reduce the risk of hospital admission or death for at-risk adults with mild to moderate coronavirus by 30%, while PF-07321332/ritonavir reduced the relative risk of Covid-associated hospital admission or death by 89% in those who received treatment within three days of symptoms appearing.
Antivirals Taskforce chairman Eddie Gray said: “Both antivirals in our current portfolio could be vital tools against Omicron – with current evidence showing they will be effective against the variant.
“The Antivirals Taskforce will continue its work to ensure vulnerable people who test positive for Covid-19 can rapidly access these medicines.”