Government widens access to oral COVID-19 treatments

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Health minister Mark Butler has widened access to the PBS-listed oral COVID-19 treatments as new data reveals minimal use of the two reimbursed therapies.

From today, all people aged over 70 who test positive for the virus can access MSD's LAGEVRIO (molnupiravir) or Pfizer's PAXLOVID (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) through the PBS.

Subsidised access has also been expanded to people aged over 50 with two or more risk factors for severe disease, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged over 30 with two or more risk factors for severe disease and many immunocompromised people over 18.

On 5 July, Mr Butler said the former listing was "too restrictive", publicly confirming he had requested that the PBAC reconsider the listing.

"I think we need to broaden that eligibility, that’s certainly the argument that Chris Picton, the South Australian Minister, has made strongly as well, and the committee will consider that over the course of this week," he said.

However, the committee's outcome statement in which it recommended wider access is dated 30 June, suggesting an out-of-session outcome before last week's meeting. It is unclear why Mr Butler felt the need to give a different impression on 5 July.

The government has 1.3 million courses of LAGEVRIO and PAXLOVID.

Data from market intelligence firm NostraData shows just 54,000 prescriptions of the two therapies have been dispensed since March.

LAGEVRIO was listed on the PBS on 1 March and PAXLOVID on 1 April.

The data from NostraData, which reflects around 80 per cent of Australia's community pharmacies, shows LAGEVRIO dominating the almost 54,000 dispensed prescriptions from 1 March to the end of June.

A senior Department of Health official is the 'responsible person' for the PBS listing of Pfizer's PAXLOVID. The unique arrangement has created some confusion given officials have no practical experience in supplying Australia's medicine supply chain.