COVID-19 medicines

COVID-19 medicines can help people who are at risk of becoming very sick with COVID-19.

Last updated: 13 September 2022

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Eligibility guide for COVID-19 medicines


Taking antiviral medicines to treat COVID-19

COVID-19 antiviral medicines are available to treat eligible people with COVID-19 in the community.

You must start taking COVID-19 medicines within the first five days of getting COVID-19 symptoms.

When taken early in COVID-19 illness, these medicines have been proven to reduce hospitalisation and death.

These medicines are free for eligible people with COVID-19 within five days of their symptoms starting. If eligible, you may be able to get a prescription from your usual healthcare provider, or the medicine may be supplied without a prescription from some pharmacies.

Eligibility for COVID-19 antiviral medicines

People with a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19 may be eligible for treatment with COVID-19 antiviral medicines.

Pharmac has widened access to COVID-19 antivirals and from 14 September 2022, to be eligible for COVID-19 antiviral medicines, you must:

  • have symptoms and have tested positive for COVID-19 or
  • have symptoms and be a household contact of a person with COVID-19

One of the following must also apply:

  • you are aged 65-plus
  • you are Māori or Pacific ethnicity aged 50-plus
  • you are aged 50-plus AND have not completed a primary course of COVID-19 vaccinations
  • you have any combination of three or more high-risk medical conditions
  • you have a severely weakened immune system
  • you have Down syndrome
  • you have sickle cell disease
  • you have previously been admitted to critical care or high dependency care as a result of COVID-19 and have tested positive again

Please note: These medicines may not be suitable for everyone, even if they meet eligibility criteria.

More information about eligibility can be found on the Pharmac website.

Te Whatu Ora has developed an Eligibility guide for COVID-19 antiviral medicines.

Types of COVID-19 antiviral medicines available

Three COVID-19 antiviral medicines are available to treat eligible people with COVID-19 in the community:

  • nirmatrelvir with ritonavir (branded as Paxlovid)
  • molnupiravir (branded as Lagevrio)
  • remdesivir, an infusion treatment (branded as Veklury).
Paxlovid

Paxlovid consists of two medicines (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) that you take together. They reduce the amount of virus in your body. You take Paxlovid tablets for five days.

It is important to tell your usual healthcare provider or pharmacist of any illnesses, and medicines, herbal remedies or supplements you are taking. They may affect the safety of Paxlovid.

If you were given an advance prescription for Paxlovid, you may still need a clinical assessment before getting these medicines. Visit Health Navigator for information about Paxlovid, including how to take it, what to think about before you take it, and possible side effects.

There is information below about the possible return of COVID-19 symptoms soon after finishing treatment with Paxlovid.

More information about Paxlovid – Health Navigator

Molnupiravir

Molnupiravir (Lagevrio) is a medicine that reduces the amount of virus in your body. You take molnupiravir capsules for five days.

Visit Health Navigator for information about molnupiravir, including how to take it, what to think about before you take it, and possible side effects.

More information about molnupiravir – Health Navigator

Remdesivir

Remdesivir (Veklury) is a medicine that reduces the amount of virus in your body. It is given once a day, usually for three days. It is given by a slow injection into your vein (called an intravenous infusion), over 30 to 120 minutes. This option is mostly only available in hospital but may be available via some community providers as well, such as rural settings

Visit Health Navigator for information about remdesivir, including when it is given and possible side effects.

More information about remdesivir – Health Navigator

If you test positive for COVID-19

If you get COVID-19, you must self-isolate so you will need to arrange to have the medicine delivered to you by friends, whānau or by other means. Some pharmacies can deliver the medicine.

How to self-isolate

Getting a prescription from your general practice (GP)

If you think you may be eligible, talk to your usual general practice (GP) by phone about getting a prescription for the COVID-19 medicine that is right for you. They will help you work out if you are suitable for antiviral medicine. It will depend on several factors, including your age, ethnicity, other health conditions and vaccination status.

Getting the medicine from a pharmacy

If you think you may be eligible, you may be able to get COVID-19 medicines without a prescription from your local pharmacy. Talk to your local pharmacy by phone to see if that is right for you. The pharmacist will carry out a clinical assessment and check your eligibility before providing the medicine.

Pharmacies supplying antivirals can be found on Healthpoint.

A prescription is required at these pharmacies

No prescription is required at these pharmacies.

Advance prescriptions for COVID-19 antiviral medicines

If you are at risk of severe illness from COVID-19, you may be able to get a prescription for an antiviral medicine from your usual general practice before you get sick. This means the pharmacy will have the prescription ready to use if you become unwell. If you test positive and develop symptoms, you can then arrange to have the medicine delivered by friends or whānau, or by other means, such as your pharmacy in some instances.

Talk to your usual healthcare provider to see if getting a prescription before you get unwell is right for you. It is not possible to get an advance prescription to take on overseas travel in case you get COVID-19 while overseas.

Return of symptoms following treatment

It is normal for some people recovering from COVID-19 to have symptoms that come and go for some time, regardless of whether they have taken antiviral medicines.

For some people, symptoms may return after completing a course of antivirals. This is known as rebound. It has also been observed in patients who have not taken any antivirals, and is a phenomenon that is not uncommon with other viral illnesses too.

People experiencing Paxlovid rebound do not appear to get severely ill. Symptoms are usually mild and typically resolve within three days.

It is recommended that you should stay home and recover until 24 hours after you no longer have symptoms if:

  • your symptoms return after finishing the five-day course of antivirals,
  • and it’s 28 days or less since you first got symptoms or tested positive.

There is no need to take another course of antivirals if your symptoms return during this time.

Read about getting reinfected with COVID-19.

If you have an underlying health condition or your symptoms are getting worse, call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or your usual healthcare provider.

COVID-19 preventative medicine

Evusheld is for severely immunocompromised people aged 12 and over, who don’t have COVID-19, but have medical conditions that mean vaccinations offer inadequate protection from the virus and put them at high risk of developing severe disease. This includes transplant recipients and some people having cancer treatments.

It is given by two injections before a person gets COVID-19, or at least two weeks after their recovery from COVID-19.

Evusheld is available to patients in hospital, with community availability planned for later in September.

Information about eligibility is available on the Pharmac website

Medicines given in hospital

Some other medicines are available to prevent or treat COVID-19 but are only given in hospital. More information is available on the Pharmac website.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 treatments portfolio

Information on COVID-19 therapeutics for health professionals.

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