As published by i news:
Vulnerable and elderly people who contract Covid-19 will start being given pills to take at home in the coming weeks to reduce the risk they end up in hospital.
The UK will this month become the first country to deploy the antiviral drug molnupiravir, which ministers hope will reduce the risk of unsustainable pressure on the NHS even if the Omicron variant pushes the national infection rate to new highs.
The NHS is planning to set up “Covid medicines delivery units” to get the drugs out to those who need them, according to the Sunday Telegraph. A national network of drug deliveries from pharmacies previously operated during lockdown to help people who could not safely leave home to access their medication.
Patients who are immunosuppressed and otherwise extremely vulnerable, including care home residents, will be the first to be prescribed molnupiravir, which is sold under the brand name Lagevrio, i understands.
They are most likely to be hospitalised if they catch Covid-19, and also least likely to have produced a robust immune response to vaccination.
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, told the BBC: “The drugs mean that even if transmission spreads it is no more harmful than, say, ordinary flu because you take the fatality out of it.”
Veteran Conservative backbencher David Davis suggested that molnupiravir and Paxlovid, a drug produced by Pfizer which has not yet been approved by UK regulators, would allow the country to avoid invasive new restrictions in future.
He said: “These new drugs will allow us to avoid a panic response every time we have a new variant since they will dramatically reduce the death rate and cut the pressure on the NHS as they can be taken at home.”
The drugs will be provided within 48 hours of a positive test result, because they are most effective when taken before illness has taken hold. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has authorised the treatment for Covid patients who are aged 60 or older, or who have another risk factor such as diabetes or heart disease.
Initial results suggested that molnupiravir could cut the risk of hospitalisation by 50 per cent, but more recent findings have been relatively disappointing with its efficacy cut to around 30 per cent. The Government has purchased 480,000 courses of the drug.
Paxlovid appears to be more effective, reducing hospital admissions by almost 90 per cent. The results of its trial were so promising that it was immediately stopped on the grounds that deliberately denying the treatment to the “control” group was unethical. Britain has 250,000 doses on order but it is not yet clear when the drug will be approved and deployed.
The Omicron variant appears to be more resistant than previous strains to the existing vaccines, and to antibody therapies which are already being used in the NHS. But the antivirals do not target the parts of the virus which are particularly highly mutated in Omicron, meaning scientists believe they will still be effective.