The COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid can help reduce severe symptoms and prevent hospitalization, but finding the medication has not been easy.

Maya Papineau is on the mend from COVID-19 and she wonders whether Paxlovid, a five-day course of pills, prevented a worse outcome.

“I did have a fever the first couple of days, a really bad sore throat and headache,” says Papineau. “I have Crohn’s Disease and I basically take a double dose of an immune suppressant that’s categorized as a type of drug that limits my ability to potentially avoid severe outcomes from COVID and because of that I qualify for Paxlovid.”

Paxlovid is an oral medication that must be taken within five days of the first onset of COVID symptoms. Papineau tested positive last Thursday, her doctor was able to fill the prescription, but finding a pharmacy that had stock was difficult.

“My GP said that the pharmacies she called don’t have it,” says Papineau, who was able to contact her care team at the hospital and have the drug dispensed through its pharmacy. But after hours of waiting on the phone, it closed for Good Friday.

The window of opportunity was closing, and Papineau could not find another pharmacy that had stock. It was not until Saturday afternoon that a friend saw a social media post saying a nearby pharmacy had stock.

“I literally got the last Paxlovid that pharmacy had,” says Papineau. “I think it’s very frustrating. I’m sure a lot of other people have gone through this process and did not get it. It seems like for several months we’ve been hearing Paxlovid is available, this is a great, very promising antiviral, yet now when I came down with COVID, I could see still like all these months it’s still hard to get.”

Paxlovid was approved for use in Canada at the beginning of this year and has been available in Ontario since March.

The treatment is recommended for those who are at a high risk of severe symptoms to hospitalization, and is only available for a specific group of people.

  • Individuals age 70 and above
  • Individuals age 60 and above with fewer than three doses of vaccine
  • Individuals age 18 and above who are immune compromised
  • Individuals age 18 and above with less than three doses of vaccine and at least one risk factor such as a chronic illness

For those who have symptoms of COVID-19, there is an online assessment tool on the province's website to help determine is treatment is necessary.

“The criteria are pretty strict for who is eligible,” says Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician. “The antiviral medication is going to be helpful for a small group of people who are going to be able to access it, but for most people it’s not even going to be accessible.”

Kaplan-Myrth, who continues to recover from COVID-19, returned to her practice on Monday, after being closed for two weeks. She says that antiviral treatments are only one tool in the defence against this pandemic and that Ontario’s conservative government is failing and needs to deploy many of the previous steadfast rules which helped to curb case spikes.

“We should be doing everything that we can using all the tools that we have to ensure people have access to testing, to ensure that people have supports to isolate while sick for more than five days, and to make sure that everybody is wearing a mask in workplaces and schools,” says Kaplan-Myrth. “We should also be encouraging people to get their booster doses of vaccine because that is the difference between ending up in hospital or with severe illness.”