TORONTO — Ontario is prioritizing older, unvaccinated residents and immunocompromised individuals for a new antiviral COVID-19 treatment, as limited supplies become available across the province.
Ontario received its first shipment of Paxlovid last week, and Health Minister Christine Elliott had said the drug would be directed toward adults at the highest risk.
The province has now released its guidelines for who is eligible for the treatment. Those who qualify include immunocompromised adults, unvaccinated people aged 60 and over, and unvaccinated people aged 50 and over if they are First Nation, Inuit or Metis individuals or have one or more risk factors.
Those risk factors include obesity, stage 5 kidney disease or receiving dialysis, diabetes, cerebral palsy, an intellectual disability, sickle cell disease, solid organ or stem cell transplant recipients, and receiving active cancer treatment.
Ontario's chief medical officer of health said the drug is for people who have mild symptoms and test positive.
"The early data on antivirals is promising. They have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization by 88 per cent," said Dr. Kieran Moore.
"But Paxlovid is not a replacement for vaccination. We strongly encourage you to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as soon as possible."
The treatment, currently available in limited quantities, will be offered at clinical assessment centres throughout the province, though not all of the 75 centres will necessarily have the antivirals on hand. Ontario has received 10,800 courses of treatment, with another 10,000 on the way next month, Moore said.
People who would qualify for Paxlovid have to first test positive for COVID-19, and the province says eligible individuals can receive either a PCR test or a rapid test at those sites.
There are 14 hospitals and one clinic in the province acting as distribution sites for Paxlovid, dispersing the antivirals to various clinical assessment centres in their region. The clinical assessment centres are expanded COVID-19 assessment centres and can be found through the government's COVID-19 testing locations website.
Anyone experiencing moderate or severe COVID-19 symptoms such as extreme difficulty breathing is still advised to go to an emergency department or call 911.
Treatment with Paxlovid - six pills a day for five days - has to start within five days of symptoms beginning in order to be effective.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press