The Ministry of Public Health is gearing up to procure two types of oral COVID-19 antiviral medicines for use in Thailand to fight COVID-19 along with other treatments and vaccines.
Dr Atthasit Srisubat, adviser to the Department of Medical Services, said on Monday the ministry is expected to propose to the cabinet its planned procurement of Molnupiravir for approval on Tuesday.
“If approved, the drug is likely to be delivered in late December or January next year,” he said of the medicine developed by US drug companies Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
Dr Srisubat said the ministry will also pursue further talks with Pfizer on Friday over the procurement of another COVID-19 antiviral medicine, Paxlovid.
“The ministry has been in talks with the company over this drug candidate since August this year when the results of its study were not available,” he said.
The ministry’s move comes after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha over the weekend urged the ministry to speed up pre-ordering the two types of COVID-19 antiviral medicines for use.
Citing results of the clinical trials, Dr Srisubat said the two oral anti-viral drugs have been found to cut the risk of hospitalisation among COVID-19 patients. Both drugs work by preventing the virus from multiplying and thus reducing the severity of infection, he said, adding that they are effective against mild or moderate COVID-19 symptoms and in vulnerable groups.
However, he said these drugs are not recommended for those with severe kidney and liver problems and people with HIV/Aids suffering extremely low immunity, due to a lack of data on the medicines. He said the number of drugs required will depend on the number of COVID-19 infections and it is estimated about 10% of patients will need antiviral treatments.
Dr Srisubat also shared the trial results for both drugs on COVID-19 patients.
For the Molnupiravir trial, pills were given to 385 people twice a day, four pills per time, for five days while a placebo was given to 377 people. About 50% of those who received Molnupiravir did not require hospitalisation and none of them died.
As for Paxlovid which was taken alongside Ritonavir, it was given to 389 people twice a day, two pills per time, while the placebo was given to 385 people. About 89% of those who received Paxlovid and Ritonavir were not hospitalised if they were given the drugs within three days of the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.
About 85% were not hospitalised if they were prescribed the drugs within five days of the onset of the symptoms. There were no deaths in the group that received Paxlovid and Ritonavir.
“Both drugs are effective in reducing hospitalisations and preventing deaths. Molnupiravir can also be used to treat influenza while Paxlovid is developed to specifically treat COVID-19,” he said.
However, Dr Srisubat said the price of the drugs at present is not known but it is possible that the prices of Molnupiravir may be different in developed and developing countries.
He said Pfizer is preparing to submit Paxlovid to the US regulator the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval, while Molnupiravir is pending authorisation for emergency use by the US FDA.
Meanwhile, the Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) has voiced concerns about virus infections among people joining robe-giving ceremonies and asked participants to keep themselves protected.
Dr Apisamai Srirungson, the CCSA’s assistant spokeswoman, said COVID-19 cases linked to such religious events have been reported in several provinces and the situation is a concern as robe-giving ceremonies continue throughout the month.
“The CCSA is concerned about clusters from kathin robe-giving activities in Yasothon and Roi Et where participants returned from Khon Kaen, as well as in Si Sa Ket, Prachuap Khiri Khan, Kanchanaburi, Sing Buri and Satun,” she said.