Ontario pharmacists given green light to prescribe antiviral Paxlovid for COVID-19

By Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

Ontario will soon allow pharmacists to prescribe an antiviral drug used to reduce severe outcomes from COVID-19.

Starting on Dec. 12, pharmacists can prescribe Paxlovid to eligible patients at no cost, both in person or virtually.

“By increasing access to these treatments in more convenient ways, we are helping to keep people healthier and reduce COVID-19-related hospital admissions,” Health Minister Sylvia Jones announced on Thursday.

Those eligible for Paxlovid must have COVID-19 symptoms as well as a positive COVID-19 test, either from a PCR test or a rapid test, and seek treatment within five days of symptom onset, the province said.

Eligible individuals include those 60 years and older, those who are aged 18 or older who are immunocompromised, and those over 18 who are at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease.

Pharmacists have already been dispensing Paxlovid in some 4,000 locations across the province for those who have a prescription from their physician, Jones said

“While it is a voluntary program, we are quite optimistic that there will be many pharmacists that choose to do this because it is another pathway for them to assist their patients directly,” Jones said.

“So it’s really about getting access into the community faster.”

Majority of Ontario pharmacies expected to offer Paxlovid 

Justin Bates, the CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said the Paxlovid prescribing power builds on the work pharmacists have been doing with the drug.

“For the last several months in dispensing Paxlovid and dealing with some of the complexities in the drug-to-drug interactions, which really leverages the pharmacist’s expertise, training, and education, now we can reduce the barriers to make sure that more Ontarians have access to this important medication,” Bates said.

He said he expects the majority of pharmacies “will take this on.”

Last month, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health said the move would keep people out of hospitals, especially in rural areas where access to primary care physicians can be limited.

“Authorizing pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid will expand access and offer increased protection to the most vulnerable and mitigate pressures on the province’s hospital capacity,” Dr. Kieran Moore noted.

Having Ontario pharmacies as one more avenue for prescriptions will enable quicker access and therefore keep more people out of hospital this winter, Bates said.

“The earlier you started in five days, the better in terms of preventing serious symptoms and illness whereby you would then need to go to the hospital or, even worse, into the hospital’s ICU.”

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said last month he thinks it’s a great idea to have pharmacists prescribe Paxlovid, saying it could prevent people from being hospitalized for COVID-19.

“These are preventable health-care outcomes.”

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