The Department of Disease Control (DDC) insisted yesterday the antiviral medication favipiravir has shown high efficacy in treating patients infected with COVID-19, adding the drug is available for bulk purchase and costs only 800 baht per treatment.
Favipiravir’s effectiveness has been assessed by Siriraj Hospital’s Faculty of Medicine during the two-year COVID-19 pandemic in Thailand, said Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the DDC. Its efficacy should not be devalued, he said.
The drug has been administered to more than a million people and proved effective in 79% of cases, with patients recovering from an infection in four days. In a control group of patients who did not take the drug, only 32.3% attained a similar recovery, he said.
He was responding to critics of favipiravir including activist Srisuwan Janya, secretary-general of the Association for the Protection of the Thai Constitution. On Friday he petitioned the Administrative Court against Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul and some other executives at the ministry over their decision to continue using favipiravir as the main treatment for COVID-19 patients.
The ministry is set to buy 254 million favipiravir pills in August-September and 300 million pills during October-December, at a total cost of 6 billion baht despite its maker having been ordered not to tout its efficacy against Omicron.
Dr Manus Potaporn, deputy director-general of the Department of Medical Services, said part of the systematic study and review process regarding favipiravir has been developing formal guidelines for its proper use.
Other medications for COVID-19 treatment, namely remdesivir, molnupiravir and paxlovid, have been studied and reviewed in the same manner, Dr Potaporn said.
He said that each of these COVID-19 treatments has its own advantages and disadvantages.
However, he noted, “Molnupiravir and paxlovid are both new drugs which cost up to 10,000 baht per treatment course.”
As for favipiravir, in addition to its treatment efficacy the drug’s safety also has been verified in many countries around the world, Dr Potaporn said.
In Thailand, 52% of all COVID-19-infected patients displaying some symptoms are not in fact given any antiviral drugs, he said.
They instead receive treatments for relieving symptoms, while 26% of patients are given favipiravir and another 24% the herbal medication green chiretta (known in Thai as fa talai chon).
Another benefit of favipiravir, said Dr Karnkawinpong of the DDC, is the absence of strong side effects and its suitability for pregnant patients.
He said plans are to begin administering favipiravir to pregnant women from the second quarter of this year.
More importantly, he said, the drug is usually available for purchase in high quantities while costing only 800 baht per course, far lower than any other medications with similar treatment efficacy such as remdesivir, molnupiravir and paxlovid.
Remesivir costs 1,512 baht per treatment course while molnupiravir and paxlovid each cost 10,000 baht per treatment course, he said.