Acting MOH urges use of new antiviral COVID treatment for high-risk people

Acting MOH urges use of new antiviral COVID treatment for high-risk people

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—Haldimand-Norfolk’s Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr. Matt Strauss held a press conference April 1, 2022 to speak about the new antiviral treatment Paxlovid and the immense benefits the treatment can have for high-risk individuals that are diagnosed with COVID-19.

Although HN currently isn’t seeing an alarming rise in cases, Strauss is confident cases will rise locally as they have been recently across the province: “If we’re not testing everyone every day, if we’re not testing everyone who wants a test, it’s true that the case rate is less precise, but even that less precise number is going up provincially,” said Strauss.

On Paxlovid, which is made by Pfizer and was approved for use in Ontario in January, Strauss urged the importance of getting the word out to the most vulnerable members of the community: “It’s a really important medicine. Every level of government, every level of health care, every level of our community has to make sure that when this wave of cases comes to our community that the right people are getting this medicine.”

The treatment, which comes in pill form, should start to be administered within five days of the onset of COVID symptoms to be most successful.

According to Strauss, the Provincial government has tens of thousands of doses available at their disposal, but due to a “lack of access and education,” only a few hundred of those doses have been distributed to actual patients.

“We believe a lot of the mortality and morbidity from COVID are caused by your body’s response to it. It’s the first week where the virus is replicating and ramping up your immune system, it’s in that second week where your immune system has lost its mind that people end up being admitted to the hospital. We want to stop that train before it leaves the station; we want to kill the virus in those first few days.”

There are two ways to qualify for the treatment. First, if you are considered high-risk, you can be assessed by your physician to see if Paxlovid will work. This includes but is not limited to conditions such as heart disease, lung disease such as COPD or asthma, overweight or obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and significant liver or kidney disease.

The second way to be eligible requires a patient to have two of the three following conditions: they’re over 70, not up to date on their vaccinations, and/or they suffer from other medical problems or are currently pregnant.

“Even if you’re fully vaccinated, if you’re elderly and have important medical problems you need both, and both is better,” said Strauss on getting a Paxlovid treatment in addition to vaccination. “If you have two of those three things, I need for you to get tested if you have symptoms and I need you to get assessed for Paxlovid if you’re positive.” 

Preliminary studies on the treatment have revealed a death rate of zero, and a 90% decrease in hospitalization risks: “We don’t see medicines like this very often that drive the death rate to zero,” said Strauss.

Currently, Paxlovid treatment is not available within Haldimand County, although Strauss said he is “actively lobbying” for it to be available here: “I hope we’ll be able to announce in the coming days that the medicine will be in our community. For now, it is not.” 

The closest available clinics offering the treatment as of publication are St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton and St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener. 

Strauss went as far as appealing to those in the community who may know someone who is high-risk but unable to get to an assessment site to offer them a ride: “We need to make sure that people who are high-risk and COVID positive get this medicine.”

He continued, “I understand you can self-refer, but it’s better if a physician refers you. If you don’t have a physician to refer you, you can call the public health unit and I will refer you.”

Strauss believes Paxlovid will become an essential tool in fighting COVID, noting that the Province is planning to receive up to 40,000 courses of treatment a month “for the foreseeable future.”