CORONAVIRUS/CECC adds option for obtaining oral antiviral medications for COVID-19

Starting Friday, friends or relatives of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are eligible to receive oral antiviral medications will be allowed to attend medical consultations and collect medication on their behalf, according to the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC).

The new policy will give high-risk patients another option for accessing oral antiviral drugs, aside from directly consulting with a doctor by teleconference or telephone, Lo Yi-chun (???), deputy head of the CECC's medical response division, said at a press conference.

Under Taiwan's current regulations, doctors may prescribe oral antiviral drugs such as Pfizer's Paxlovid or Merck's molnupiravir to people with mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 infections, if the patient is over the age of 64 or at risk of serious infection.

From Friday, Lo said, such patients will be able to schedule an appointment at one of the 124 hospital COVID-19 outpatient clinics around Taiwan, and have a friend or relative attend on their behalf.

The representative should bring the patient's National Health Insurance (NHI) card and proof of their infection -- such as a digital COVID-19 certificate or a screenshot of their test results on the NHI app (Google Android / Apple iOS) -- to the appointment, Lo said.

If the doctor decides to prescribe oral antivirals or other medications, the representative will be able to pick them up at the hospital pharmacy, after signing a patient consent form, Lo said.

Meanwhile, the CECC also said Thursday that it would begin allocating additional quantities of molnupiravir to nursing homes and hospital dialysis departments, as the Merck drug has fewer interactions with other drugs than Paxlovid.

Oral antiviral drug prescription numbers still low

As of late April, Taiwan had taken delivery of 180,000 courses of Paxlovid and 5,040 courses of molnupiravir. Another 520,000 courses of Paxlovid are expected to arrive in the country by the end of June.

On Wednesday, however, only 930 courses of the two oral antiviral drugs were prescribed by doctors, despite there being over 57,000 new COVID-19 infections in the country.

In interviews with CNA, doctors suggested a number of reasons why the medications were not yet being prescribed more frequently.

Hung Tzu-jen (???), deputy superintendent of Taipei's Hsin Kong Wu Ho Su Memorial Hospital, said that some doctors were exercising caution because of their lack of familiarity with the new medications.

For instance, Paxlovid has known interactions with over 1,000 other medications, including many that are commonly prescribed for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and hyperglycemia, he said.

Lin Ying-jan (???), a doctor in private practice in Taipei, said that because of testing delays, many people only confirm their infections after the end of the five-day window in which the medications can be prescribed.

Many doctors in clinics are also conducting remote consultations for the first time, and are concerned they will have to reimburse the NT$20,000 (US$669) cost of the medicine if they prescribe it without "indication," or a valid reason for doing so, he added.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel