A Labor MP and doctor says the country’s strategy to tackle Covid infections is “letting Australians down” and calls for major changes to eligibility for powerful anti-viral drugs to allow more access to more people Still working.
Dr Michelle Anand-Raja said she paid more than $1,100 out of her own pocket this week on a private script for a Covid anti-viral for a sick family member who was not eligible to receive subsidies for the drugs . She called on her government to open up treatment to everyone over the age of 12, labeling the current rules “dastardly”.
“I think Australians are being shortchanged,” Anand-Raja, an infectious disease specialist and general practitioner before entering politics, told Guardian Australia.
“We’re letting down Australians wholesale. There’s no escaping it. We’ve got people to do nothing but take Panadol and pray.
But Dr Danielle McMullen, vice-president of the Australian Medical Association, said she supported the current eligibility criteria and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee’s (PBAC) approach, taking into account the balance of factors surrounding benefits and risks. However, there is a need for constant re-evaluation of the rapidly evolving data on Covid, he said.
“Our strong message is that if you are eligible, have access to drugs and have a pre-emptive plan,” she said.
Mark Morgan, a professor of general practice at Bond University and spokesman for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said Australia should not “take its eye off the ball” with Covid but also urged caution in changing eligibility rules.
“It would be quite wrong to recommend anti-virals beyond the evidence that they are effective. If you start using them in people who have little to gain, you’re more likely to have a net loss than a net gain,” he said.
“Decisions should be made on the basis of evidence, not guesswork. I don’t want to be an armchair expert.
The anti-Covid anti-viral medicines Lagavirio and Paxlovid are available at a subsidized price on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for people over the age of 18 who are moderately to severely immunocompromised. Medicines taken to reduce COVID symptoms after infection, for everyone over age 70, for people over age 50 with two additional risk factors, or who have been previously hospitalized with COVID are also available at a subsidy to First Nations people over the age of 30. Risk factors or previous hospitalisation.
But Anand-Raja, an outspoken critic of the former coalition government’s Covid response and a former doctor at Melbourne’s Alfred Health, said those eligibility rules should be widened dramatically.
“I would like us to align with the United States, where it is available to anyone 12 years of age and older,” she said.
“I don’t think it’s a big question. We don’t have much in our arsenal against Covid and long Covid implications.
Based on emerging evidence, some experts are hopeful that the use of anti-virals may help reduce the risk of prolonged COVID.
A US study published in November, a preprint article that has not been peer approved, analyzed the medical records of 56,000 patients from the US Veterans Health System; Researchers reported that people who were given paxlovid soon after their diagnosis were 26% less likely to experience long-term Covid symptoms than those who did not take the drug.
However, the researchers also noted limitations in the study’s data, including that most of the research team was white and male, which limits the ability to make generalizations about the results.
The health minister, Mark Butler, said the government sought advice from the PBAC on access to medicines at PBS prices, and noted Labor had already made a “then-unprecedented” decision earlier this year to increase entitlements from the advisory committee.
“When making their recommendation, the PBAC balance[s] clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness,” Butler told Guardian Australia.
“The PBAC is continually monitoring the emerging evidence regarding the effectiveness of these antivirals. If evidence emerges to suggest that eligibility or eligibility criteria should be reconsidered, I am confident that they will act on their advice.” Will consider again.”
He said typical patients accessing the anti-viral on PBS paid $30 for generic scripts or $7.30 for subsidized ones.
Butler said it was “clear that we need to develop a focused national response to Covid over the long term” and looked forward to receiving the inquiry’s report.
The Coalition’s shadow health minister, Anne Ruston, called on the government to re-evaluate eligibility settings.
“If expanding entitlement to Covid antivirals keeps more Australians out of hospital and prevents instances of serious illness, helping to take some of the pressure off our hardworking health professionals, it should be considered,” she said .