With daily coronavirus infection rates as high as ever, the positive tones uttered by the NHS on the effectiveness of antiviral treatments should indeed be good news. Patients have reported a relief in symptoms only hours after taking them. The trouble is only high-vulnerability patients are eligible, and some doctors are having difficulty accessing the antiviral covid drugs. Even immunocompromised patients may have trouble getting them. And, The Independent writes, patients have been sent from ‘pillar to post’ when trying to get a hold of the treatments.
Up until now, over 32,000 patients in England were prescribed what the NHS has hailed as ‘cutting-edge’ treatment. The government has secured five million doses of Pfizer’s Paxlovid and other antiviral covid drugs such as Molnupiravir.
In clinical trials, Paxlovid reduced deaths and hospital admissions by as much as 88 per cent, while patients taking Molnupiravir are 30 per cent less likely to be admitted to hospital or die from Covid.
Sharing her experience with Sky News, Helen West, who suffers from a rare long-term condition, said:
“The process was so quick and efficient.”
“Within six hours of taking the first tablet, I felt a very slight improvement. After four days, I was back to work.
“COVID hit me hard, but Paxlovid really made a positive difference to my recovery.”
“Antivirals are another weapon in our arsenal” – NHS
Patients who have been identified as being at high risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus are eligible for the treatments. According to the NHS, the drugs stop the virus from multiplying in cells and as a result, throughout the body. Patients are better able to fight the virus and the recovery time is much shorter.
NHS National Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, said:
“It’s fantastic that since launching the latest antiviral treatment Paxlovid just over a month ago, thousands of our most vulnerable patients have already had access to this latest cutting-edge, life-saving treatment.
“Antivirals are another weapon in our arsenal to reduce hospital admissions and fatalities amongst patients at highest risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 and needing hospitalisation – each and every person treated with the new drugs is testament to how the NHS is doing everything possible to protect those who are at most risk.”
Sajid Javid, Health and Social Care Secretary, said that the UK had “secured more antivirals per head than any other country in Europe – almost five million doses for NHS patients.”
“Both of our ground-breaking antivirals – Molnupiravir and Paxlovid – are available to those most vulnerable to the virus directly through the NHS, and it’s fantastic to see 32,000 patients reaping the benefits.
“For anyone not in this high-risk group, if you’re aged 50 and over or 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition and test positive, you can sign up to the PANORAMIC study to potentially access this treatment too”.
Access to anti-viral covid drugs denied to clinically vulnerable patients
But the reality on the ground looks less rosy for the many doctors and patients trying to get their hands on the antiviral covid drugs.
Covid Medicine Delivery Units (CMDUs) in charge of delivering antiviral medication to patients are reportedly struggling to make the anti-viral Covid drugs available.
In line with government guidelines, CMDUs across the country are tasked with assessing vulnerable patients and prescribing the anti-viral treatments within five days of a positive test to anyone deemed suitable.
The NHS wrote to thousands of eligible patients, however, some vulnerable patients told The Independent that they were never contacted.
Clinically Vulnerable Families support group spokesperson, Lara Wong told the paper:
“Members have struggled to access antivirals, particularly at the weekend. In desperation, we are increasingly needing to request interventions from MP’s to secure them. The vulnerable are being left behind.”
The NHS has admitted delivery issues exist. One NHS manager said:
“We’ve had reports that either people aren’t being contacted and just don’t know how to access help.”
“We’ve been told that the CMDUs are closed at the weekend, which is crazy because that loses two days from the short window of opportunity these patients have to receive treatment.
“Increasingly we’ve found that people ringing 111 are told they can’t be referred. The GP says it’s not my job. There just seem to be multiple problems throughout the whole pathway. Some areas are doing better than others though. There could be a potential postcode problem”.
He also said that “there’s a problem about who’s on the list. It doesn’t obviously incorporate all the immunosuppressed people”.