Antiviral Paxlovid approved for emergency use by Health Canada

Oral COVID-19 antiviral drug reduces hospitalizations from the virus

Jace Koblun with files from McGill University

Quebec will begin receiving the oral antiviral drug Paxlovid, but not quickly enough to ease the heavy burden that the latest wave of COVID-19 is imposing on hospitals. Whether or not Paxlovid will be supplied to Indigenous communities like Six Nations is still unknown, but Ontario has confirmed 400 doses of the new drug for northern reserves.

Paxlovid is a combination of Pfizer’s investigational antiviral PF-07321332 and a low dose of ritonavir, an antiretroviral medication traditionally used to treat HIV. The treatment disrupts the replication of SARS-CoV-2 in the body by binding to the 3CL-like protease, an enzyme critical to the virus’ reproduction.

A Jan. 19 press release said Paxlovid was developed by Pfizer and is being praised for its potential in reducing hospitalizations from the virus. It was recently approved for emergency use by Health Canada.

Two Row Times asked Indigenous Services Canada earlier this week for comment on how the drug will affect Indigenous communities and how it will be supplied, but they did not respond by press time.

CBC News said the drug’s arrival is being welcomed by health officials in Quebec, as hospitals have been overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 patients infected by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

Here are some experts from McGill University that can comment on this issue.

Nancy Heath is a James McGill Professor in the Department of Educational & Counselling Psychology. Her research program explores resilience and adaptive functioning in young people at-risk (children, adolescents, and young adults). In regards to Families and Parenting, she said everybody responds differently to the stresses involved with the pandemic.

“It is important to understand that we already have been experiencing pandemic fatigue for several months,” said Heath. “The resurgence of restrictions and worries about the Omicron variant are tremendously challenging for people’s mental health. Medically, we are in a better place to respond; however, in terms of mental health, we have worn down our coping capacity and have fewer reserves to weather this next challenge.

“People respond differently to the resulting stress/mental health challenge. Some become triggered with anxiety and want to withdraw and avoid threat, others respond by taking risks and insisting they will be fine or it is up to fate. However, we are all in this together and these divergent responses (which come from the same source of pandemic fatigue) can sometimes cause conflict in workplaces, educational settings, or families. We need to try to be tolerant of different responses.”

Jean Bourbeau is a Full Professor in the Department of Medicine and a Senior Scientist at the Centre for Outcomes Research and Evaluation as part of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC). He is currently involved in a randomized clinical trial of a new therapy to prevent complications of COVID-19. In general, his research focuses on the impact of respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In terms of Treatments and Drugs, Bourbeau said: “The fight against COVID-19 must be waged on many fronts. Beyond vaccines to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, therapies are also needed. Immunomodulatory drugs to attenuate the COVID-19-associated cytokine storm may turn out to be an important advance in COVID-19 therapeutics.”

When talking about Health Policy, Nicholas King, Associate Professor in the Biomedical Ethics Unit and the Department of Social Studies of Medicine, said the COVID-19 pandemic has raised fundamental ethical dilemmas at the heart of public health policy.

“What is the fairest way to distribute scarce health care resources? How far can the government go in restricting the fundamental freedom of individuals and groups to travel, associate, and peacefully assemble? What obligations do individuals have to protect themselves and others from COVID-19? And what is the appropriate role of scientific evidence in responding to the pandemic?” asks King.

“Effectively responding to COVID-19 requires a commitment to transparently producing, understanding, and acting on the best available evidence, fully recognizing its attendant uncertainties and accepting accountability for decisions. We must look to designing democratic institutions that cherish and maintain these values.”

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