Britain FINALLY approves Pfizer's 'life-saving' Covid pill

Britain FINALLY approves Pfizer’s ‘life-saving’ Covid pill after ministers ‘spent up to £1BILLION on buying up stocks’ of the antiviral which can be taken at home

  • UK bumped up its order of Pfizer’s antiviral Covid pill from 250k to 2.75million 
  • Trials of the pill found that it cut risk of hospitalisation and death rates by 89%
  • But how the pill works against the new variant Omicron has yet to be detailed 

Britain today finally approved a ‘life-saving’ antiviral Covid pill that can be taken by vulnerable people at home.

Paxlovid, made by vaccine giant Pfizer, was given the green light by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). 

It will be doled out to adults who could be vulnerable to the virus due to their age, weight or a prior chronic illness.

The UK has also bumped its original order of the drug to 2.75million courses, after commentators criticised ministers for initially only ordering 250,000. 

While the commercial agreement between Pfizer and the UK is confidential, health chiefs in America are reported to have paid the equivalent of £390 for each of the 10million courses it ordered. 

If applied to the UK, it would mean No10 has spent in the region of £1billion to buy supplies. 

While Paxlovid had promising results in trials it is unknown how the antiviral works against Omicron. The MHRA said it was working with Pfizer to establish if it is less effective. 

Details on how the drug will be distributed in the UK such as which groups will be prioritised, and when exactly it will be available for use, are yet to be revealed. 

Pfizer said that its Covid pill, called Paxlovid (pictured), is up to 89 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisations and deaths when taken within the first few days of Covid symptoms 

The UK has bumped its order of the new antiviral Covid treatment Paxlovid, to 2.75million courses,  up from 250,000 a few weeks ago. This now puts it ahead of countries with smaller populations like Australia and Canada, but still dwarfed by the US’s massive 10million order

What is it? 

Pfizer’s drug is part of a class known as protease inhibitors.

It is designed to block an enzyme the coronavirus needs in order to multiply. 

Like protease inhibitors used to treat HIV, it is given in combination with other antivirals.  

How effective is it?  

A recent trial of the pill in more than 2,200 adults found that it cut hospitalisation and death rates by 89 per cent in people at high risk of a severe illness from Covid. 

It also cut the risk of being admitted to hospital and dying by 70 per cent among healthy unvaccinated people and vaccinated adults with one or more underlying illnesses. 

It should be given as soon as possible after catching Covid, ideally within three to five days.

How much has the UK ordered?  

2.75million 

The decision to approve Paxlovid for use in the UK came after the MHRA found the drug – which can be taken at home – was safe and effective at reducing the risks of being admitted to hospital and death in people with mild to moderate infection and who are also at an increased risk of developing severe disease.

In a clinical trial in high-risk adults with symptomatic illness, it was found to reduce the risk of being admitted to hospital and of death by almost 90 per cent.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘The UK has been a world leader at finding and rolling out Covid treatments to patients.

‘This is further proved by the MHRA being one of the first in the world to approve this life-saving antiviral.

‘We are also leading the whole of Europe in the number of antivirals we’ve bought per person – with over 2.75million courses of this antiviral secured for NHS patients by the Antivirals Taskforce.

‘The booster campaign, testing and antiviral defences ensure our country is in the strongest possible position to deal with the threat posed by Omicron as we head into the new year.’

Developed by Pfizer, Paxlovid is an antiviral medicine with a combination of active ingredients, PF-07321332 and ritonavir, that works by inhibiting a protease required for virus replication.

This prevents Covid from multiplying, keeping virus levels low and helping the body to overcome the viral infection.

The two active substances of Paxlovid come as separate tablets that are packaged together and taken together, twice a day by mouth for five days.

Dr June Raine, MHRA chief executive, said: ‘Today we have given our regulatory approval for Paxlovid, a Covid treatment found to cut Covid related hospitalisations and deaths by 89 per cent when taken within three days of the start of symptoms.

‘We now have a further antiviral medicine for the treatment of Covid that can be taken by mouth rather than administered intravenously.

‘This means it can be administered outside a hospital setting, before Covid has progressed to a severe stage.

‘I hope the announcement today gives reassurance to those particularly vulnerable to Covid, for whom this treatment has been approved. For these individuals, this treatment could be life-saving.’

Based on the clinical trial data, MHRA said it had found Paxlovid is most effective when taken during the early stages of infection and so recommends its use as soon as possible and within five days of the start of symptoms.

Findings from Pfizer’s trial of 2,200 adults showed those most at-risk from the virus who took Paxlovid within a few days of Covid symptoms were 89 per cent less likely to need hospital treatment or die. The graph shows that 0.7 per cent of patients who received the drug were hospitalised, compared to 6.5 per cent of of those who did not receive the pill being hospitalised or dying. No deaths were recorded among those who took Paxlovid

More than 2MILLION people in England had Covid just before Xmas 

More than 2million people in England had Covid just before Christmas, official surveillance data suggested today amid warning signs that infections are now rising quickest in over-65s. 

The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) weekly report estimated one in 25 people had the virus on December 23, marking a 70 per cent surge in a week and the highest toll seen throughout the entire pandemic. 

Covid is most prevalent in Omicron epicentre London, where one in 15 people were estimated to be infected over the festive period, followed by the South East and East of England at one in 30. 

The ONS analysis is based on random swab testing of tens of thousands of people across Britain and the results are inspected closely by ministers. But it only offers a glimpse of how widespread the virus is, meaning it won’t reveal whether cases have truly peaked in London, like official data suggests, for another few weeks. 

Separate Government statistics showed infections are now rising fastest and doubling every week among over-65s — the age group most vulnerable to the virus.

Experts today warned this would ‘directly feed’ into hospitalisations over the coming weeks and that a spike was ‘certain’. But they added that the booster drive, which has already reached 90 per cent of older adults, will give millions an extra layer of protection and help the NHS this winter. 

It has been authorised for use in people aged 18 and above who have mild to moderate Covid infection and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness.

Such risk factors include obesity, being over 60, diabetes mellitus, or heart disease.

Ben Osborn, country manager at Pfizer UK, said: ‘This milestone is an important moment in our continued fight against Covid, offering the NHS another possible treatment option as cases continue to rise.

‘This at-home therapy, shown in clinical trials to reduce hospitalisations and save lives, has the potential to lessen the devastating impact of a virus that has now taken over five million lives globally.’

Critics previously accused No10 of being ‘asleep at the wheel’ in its small order of Paxlovid, when considering the huge efforts that went into procuring Covid jabs. 

Lord Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told the Telegraph earlier this month that he had been lobbying ministers for months to secure millions more courses of antiviral drugs for the British public.

‘We need every GP in the country to have a stock of these tablets. The moment somebody older tests positive, they go to their GP, and they take the tablets for five days. This should be our second line of defence behind vaccines,’ he said at the time. 

‘We’re talking about saving our economy hundreds of billions of pounds from endless Covid disruption. It’s a no brainer.

The MHRA has already approved another antiviral treatment called molnupiravir, sold by drug firm Merck and branded as Lagevrio.

This month Merck revealed their pill was just 30 per cent effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death among the vulnerable, lower than earlier estimates. 

The UK has already ordered 480,000 courses of molnupiravir which are already being offered to more than 1million Britons at serious risk of becoming severely ill with Covid, like cancer patients on chemotherapy. 

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