The Northwestern Health Unit is detailing the benefits of two new anti-viral COVID-19 treatments in Ontario.

Pfizer’s Paxlovid can be used to treat adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who are at high-risk of progressing to serious disease, including hospitalization or death. It’s the first COVID-19 therapy that can be taken at home, and is intended to be used within five days of symptoms.

Clinical trials showed treatment with Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospitalization and death caused by COVID-19 by 89 per cent when the medications were started within three days of the beginning of symptoms, and by 85 per cent when started within five days.

“Anti-virals are known to reduce the likelihood of hospitalization and severe disease. What’s important about Paxlovid is that individuals that are eligible need to get tested as soon as possible and they need to start treatment within five days,” explained Medical Officer of Health for the Northwestern Health Unit, Dr. Kit Young Hoon.

The treatment can be used for adult patients with mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms, who are also at high risk of becoming more seriously ill. It was approved by Health Canada in January, and Canada bought one million courses of the treatment for delivery in 2022.

Ontario says high-risk groups are now eligible to be assessed for the free anti-viral drug, including:

- Individuals aged 18 and over who are immunocompromised,
- Individuals aged 70 and over,
- Individuals aged 60 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses,
- Individuals aged 18 and over with fewer than three vaccine doses and at least one risk condition,

To get assessed, you’re asked to visit a clinical assessment centre, contact your primary healthcare provider, or use Ontario’s online anti-viral screening tool. A positive rapid antigen test can also be used to be considered for treatment.

Ontario notes anti-viral treatments can be prescribed by healthcare providers who determine that a patient is eligible based on their circumstances, even if they don’t belong to one of the above groups.

However, risk conditions include those with: diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hyper tension, congestive heart failure, moderate or severe kidney disease, chronic lung disease, intellectual or developmental disability, cerebral palsy, sickle cell disease, moderate or severe liver disease and pregnancy.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, says the province currently has about 30,000 to 40,000 anti-viral treatment plans available, and more supplies of Paxlovid are expected throughout the year.

That’s not the only tool Ontario has at its disposal in the fight against COVID-19.

The provincial government announced Friday that they will soon distribute doses of AstraZeneca’s Evusheld COVID-19 prevention drug, which can reduce the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 infection by about 83 per cent. It was approved by Health Canada earlier this month.

Evusheld will be prescribed to those who are immunocompromised and unlikely to mount an adequate immune response to a COVID-19 vaccination, or for whom COVID-19 vaccination is not recommended. It’s administered in two doses and is effective for roughly six months.

People considered eligible include:

- Solid organ transplant recipients,
- Stem cell transplant recipients,
- CAR-T therapy recipients,
- Other hematologic cancer patients undergoing treatment,

Evusheld is approved for use in adults and children over the age of 12 and over the weight of 40 kg, who are not currently infected with COVID-19 and have not had recent known contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

Patients are asked to talk to their healthcare provider to determine if Evusheld is appropriate for them, and Health Canada notes the drug is not a substitute for vaccination – as vaccines remain the strongest tool in preventing serious illness from COVID-19.

Eligible individuals are now able to book their fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose appointment through the Northwestern Health Unitparticipating pharmacies and participating primary care settings.

Canada’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Theresa Tam, says that preliminary data shows that a fourth dose, or a second booster dose, of the vaccine can offer additional protection against infection, severe illness, hospitalization and death.