NZ secures new Covid medicine

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Pharmac has secured 60,000 doses of Pfizer's new antiviral medicine.

It was a "major step" in the global fight against Covid-19, Ardern said at today's post-Cabinet press briefing.

This was the second antiviral purchased by NZ, after another deal was signed in October.

In a statement, Health Minister Andrew Little confirmed New Zealand had secured 60,000 courses of Pfizer's oral Covid-19 antiviral tablet, which overseas is called Paxlovid.

Medsafe has previously said it is "closely monitoring the developments of Covid-19-related pharmaceuticals overseas, seeking expert advice, and receiving regular updates from other medicines regulatory counterparts".

The pill, if taken early in a person's Covid-19 infection, can prevent people with mild symptoms from becoming very sick or dying.

It is similar to molnupiravir, another oral antiviral which the government had already pre-ordered 60,000 courses of, though that deal is conditional on Medsafe approval.

Antivirals like this are not thought to be effective for patients who have already gone into hospital.

Paxlovid, three pills taken twice a day for five days, was shown in studies to reduce hospitalisation by about 89 percent in early studies, with trials stopped early because it would be unethical to continue giving a placebo to people with Covid-19 when this drug was proving so effective.

Little said the $175 million allocated by the government for medicines and supply chain costs and $300m for purchasing more Covid-19 therapeutics made sure Pharmac could "continue to secure early access to new and promising Covid medicines as soon as possible".

"Both drugs are still subject to approval by Medsafe, but trials look promising, and by securing access to both we are doing everything possible to make sure New Zealanders have available medicines that are easy to administer and prevent most people who contract Covid-19 from being so sick they need to go to hospital."

He said vaccinations, mask use and contact tracing including through the Tracer app were still the best ways of stopping the spread of Covid-19 but it was also important to ensure there was a supply of medicine to treat those who did become ill.

Little said the drug was expected to be delivered to New Zealand in April, once approved by MedSafe.

The news comes after the country's first weekend under the new traffic light system, and 135 new cases of Covid-19 announced today.

Ardern this morning told Breakfast she was feeling "really positive" after the country's first weekend in the new traffic light system.

There will be no decision today about changes to the current settings. The next review will be next Monday, December 13.

Ardern will be speaking to media from about 4pm.

There are four new cases in Nelson-Marlborough, linked to existing cases. These will be included in tomorrow's numbers.

Of the 135 new cases, there are 125 in Auckland, 8 in Waikato and 2 in Canterbury.

Seventy-six people are in hospital with the virus today, including seven in ICU or HDU.

Earlier today Ardern said she was not expecting lockdowns over summer, with some parts of the country only just starting to get freedoms back.

Ardern's reassuring comments come as a leading epidemiologist warns Auckland will "probably" see more transmission around the city despite its high vaccination rates.

But while Aucklanders are getting ready to leave the city from next Wednesday, Professor Michael Baker told Breakfast Aucklanders shouldn't go and stay with anyone who is unvaccinated, as it could be a "real disaster".

However, Ardern is confident the new traffic light system rolled out last Friday will give the country enough protections.

New Zealand is projected to reach the symbolic 90 percent vaccination milestone among eligible Kiwis by Christmas Eve, according to The New Zealand Herald's vaccination tracker.

That's significant because modelling has shown that at a 90 percent vaccination rate, 10,000 exposures to Covid-19 would result only in 1175 cases and 73 hospitalisations.

But some experts think we could push vaccination rates even higher - aiming for 95 percent of over-12s, in addition to vaccinating children from the end of next month.

 - additional reporting RNZ

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