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game-changer Delay fears as Ireland drags its heels on ordering lifesaver Covid-19 anti-viral drug

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Paxlovid, partly manufactured at the Pfizer plants in Ringaskiddy and Kildare, was given conditional approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) yesterday. Photo: Depositphotos

Paxlovid, partly manufactured at the Pfizer plants in Ringaskiddy and Kildare, was given conditional approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) yesterday. Photo: Depositphotos

Paxlovid, partly manufactured at the Pfizer plants in Ringaskiddy and Kildare, was given conditional approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) yesterday. Photo: Depositphotos

Ireland is in danger of a delay in getting supplies of a game-changer Covid-19 antiviral drug that can slash the risk of hospitalisation and which was given the green light in Europe yesterday.

The drug Paxlovid, partly manufactured at the Pfizer plants in Ringaskiddy and Kildare, was given conditional approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

It is the first antiviral treatment for home use and it promises to dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease by up to 90pc in high-risk adults.

However, while Italy, Germany and Belgium have already ordered the drug, Ireland has yet to sign up to an EU joint procurement agreement – where it is bought on behalf of member states as happened in the case of Covid-19 vaccines.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said yesterday the EU Commission was currently working on the joint procurement agreement and Ireland had formally indicated “its intention to participate in this arrangement”.

She said that a national therapeutics advisory group had been established by the HSE to evaluate, advise, and provide recommendations on all therapeutics with potential for use in the treatment of Covid-19 in Ireland.

This encompasses a range of antivirals and monoclonal antibodies currently awaiting, or having recently received, EMA approval.

“In parallel, a therapeutics operational group, to be informed by the recommendations of the therapeutics advisory group, has been established to develop the arrangements for provision of these treatments to patients who may benefit.”

Pfizer will direct the first batches of the drug in the first three months of the year only to countries with a supply agreement.

Asked when Ireland can expect supplies, a Pfizer spokeswoman said it was in talks with 100 governments around the world on supply agreements. It expects to produce 120 courses of treatment by the end of 2022, including 30 million in the first year.

The EMA says side-effects are mild but it is known to affect some other medicines the patient is taking and it has warnings in its product information.

It comes as another 9,938 new cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday.

There were 708 Covid-19 patients in hospital, a fall of 31 in a day and 71 in intensive care, a drop of three.

Around half of the Covid-19 patients in hospital now are people admitted for conditions other than complications of the virus. These patients have tested positive only since their admission.

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HSE chief Paul Reid said yesterday that Ireland was on the “right side of the slope”.

The severity of infection was not as significant this time and length of stay for Covid-19 patients was also falling.

He added that while nobody was saying the pandemic was over and “we may have to recalibrate” if another threat emerged, people should still celebrate where the country is now.

But hospitals are extremely busy and the patients with asymptomatic Covid-19 are still demanding infection control measures.

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