Photo Credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL
Prime Minister Prime Minister Naftali Bennet and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz in a Maccabi vaccine center in Holon, June 29, 2021.

Israel’s Health Ministry has already contacted the pharmaceutical company Pfizer requesting information on its new drug Paxlovid in order to consider its purchase, Kan 11 News reported Sunday night. According to the report, the pharmacy department at the Health Ministry contacted Pfizer since ministry officials estimate that the new drug is a game-changer, even though it won’t eliminate the need for vaccinations. The new drug does not prevent the disease but can affect its morbidity and mortality.

In addition, there is concern within the Health Ministry that talk about the new drug even before its approval, never mind purchase, would lead to a further decrease in the already low number of new vaccinations.

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About 90 countries are waiting in line to buy the Paxlovid and it is expected to be very expensive.

On Friday, Pfizer issued a press release (Pfizer’s Novel COVID-19 Oral Antiviral Treatment Candidate Reduced Risk of Hospitalization or Death by 89% in Interim Analysis of Phase 2/3 EPIC-HR Study) announcing that its “investigational novel COVID-19 oral antiviral candidate, PAXLOVID™, significantly reduced hospitalization and death, based on an interim analysis of the Phase 2/3 Evaluation of Protease Inhibition for COVID-19 in High-Risk Patients (EPIC-HR) randomized, double-blind study of non-hospitalized adult patients with COVID-19, who are at high risk of progressing to severe illness.”

According to Pfizer, the scheduled interim analysis showed an 89% reduction in risk of COVID-19-related hospitalization or death from any cause compared to placebo in patients treated within three days of symptom onset. 0.8% of patients who received PAXLOVID™ were hospitalized through Day 28 following randomization (3 out of 389 hospitalized with no deaths), compared to 7.0% of patients who received placebo and were hospitalized or died (27 out of 385 hospitalized with 7 subsequent deaths).

If approved, Paxlovid™ would be the first oral antiviral of its kind, a specifically designed SARS-CoV-2-3CL protease inhibitor. Upon successful completion of the remainder of the EPIC clinical development program and subject to approval or authorization, it could be prescribed more broadly as an at-home treatment to help reduce illness severity, hospitalizations, and deaths, as well as reduce the probability of infection following exposure, among adults. It has demonstrated potent antiviral in vitro activity against circulating variants of concern, as well as other known coronaviruses, suggesting its potential as a therapeutic for multiple types of coronavirus infections.

“Today’s news is a real game-changer in the global efforts to halt the devastation of this pandemic,” said Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer. “These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorized by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients’ lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, and eliminate up to nine out of ten hospitalizations. Given the continued global impact of COVID-19, we have remained laser-focused on the science and fulfilling our responsibility to help healthcare systems and institutions around the world while ensuring equitable and broad access to people everywhere.”

The company is preparing for a near-future where covid-19 is endemic—that is, occurring regularly—in much, if not all, of the world. And while the booster dose of the vaccine generates better immunity, including against more recently emerged variants of the virus, its effect is expected to fade after about a year. Pfizer is already making plans for ongoing routine immunizations. “We already now are preparing for revaccination, when the third boost immunity may start to fade possibly after a year, which we think would…support an annual vaccination, similar to the flu,” said Mikael Dolsten, the company’s chief scientific officer.

According to Annalisa Merelli, reporting for Quartz, Pfizer expects Covid to remain part of the “medical landscape” for years to come and is ready to cash in on this prediction. The company revealed that it has the capacity to produce 4 billion doses of its vaccine in 2022, and has contracts with governments for 1.7 billion doses. On Nov. 2, hours before the CDC approved the Pfizer vaccine for children, the company reported a 130% growth in quarterly revenue compared to the same period in 2020, mostly due to its covid-19 vaccine which is expected to generate $36 billion in revenue in 2021.

What remains to be seen, should Paxlovid receive its approval and be purchased by Israel, is the impact of this expensive drug on the country’s ability to purchase the rest of its drug basket. There may also be an issue regarding unvaccinated Covid patients requesting to receive the new Pfizer pill – should the country bear the cost of the pill, or should they be made responsible for their vaccine hesitation?

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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