COVID-19 antiviral treatments are on the table for more Australians. What are antivirals and how do they help stop the spread of coronavirus?

In a bid to relieve the immense strain on the country’s hospital systems, millions of Australians are now eligible for COVID-19 antiviral drugs under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

The decision to expand access comes after the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) recommended changes to eligibility criteria.

More than 73,000 Australians have already benefited from these drugs. But what exactly are they and how do they ward off COVID-19?

What are antivirals? How do they work?

According to NSW Health, antivirals are drugs that help prevent a virus from infecting healthy cells or multiplying in the body.

Antiviral drugs are also preventive. They can protect you from spreading a virus to others.

They come in pill form or can be given intravenously – directly into the bloodstream.

Depending on the drug and the type of virus, antivirals work differently. Ultimately, they can:

  • Block receptors so viruses cannot bind to and enter healthy cells
  • Strengthens the immune system, helping it to fight a viral infection
  • Reduce the amount of active virus in the body

How much do antivirals help with COVID-19?

NSW Health says antiviral treatments target the virus that causes COVID-19 to prevent it from infecting healthy cells in your body and multiplying.

This helps stop the spread of the virus in your body and helps your immune system fight infection.

The two drugs, while not a substitute for vaccination, help prevent the worst effects of the virus and reduce the risk of hospitalization, according to Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Vice President Bruce Willett.

Who is eligible for antiviral treatments?

Any Australian who tests positive for COVID-19 and is over 70 years old will be able to access antivirals on the PBS.

Access has also been extended to people over the age of 50 with at least two risk factors for serious illness, and to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 30 with at least two risk factors for illness. severe.

Anyone 18 years of age or older who is severely immunocompromised or has severe physical or intellectual disabilities requiring institutional care may also request antivirals. People with cerebral palsy or Down’s syndrome may also request antivirals.

Health Minister Mark Butler said he hoped the expanded eligibility would help ease the strain on hospital systems.

“COVID cases and the number of hospitalizations are increasing, especially with newer variants,” he said.

“These oral antivirals significantly reduce the risk of serious illness, particularly for older Australians, and will help keep people out of hospital.”

How can I get them?

Your general practitioner

If you test positive for COVID-19, make an appointment by phone or video with your GP or at a GP respiratory clinic, if there is one in your area.

Australian Medical Association Vice President Chris Moy says your GP is your best option as they know your medical history and medications.

Among other things, your GP will assess your risk factors for severe COVID, see if you meet the PBS criteria, and check that your medications will not conflict with an antiviral.

Dr Moy also advises that GP surgeries are often busy or full, so be sure to let them know you are looking for COVID-19 antiviral treatment and it is urgently needed.

Lagevrio and Paxlovid were widely distributed to hospitals and aged care facilities earlier this year.(Reuters: Pfizer document)

Pharmacy prescription

If you are prescribed COVID antivirals, it is recommended that you have someone collect it on your behalf and drop it off.

But even before you get infected with COVID, it’s worth talking to your GP about antivirals.

What are the potential side effects?

The side effects of antivirals vary depending on the drug you are being treated with.

Some possible side effects of Paxlovid May include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure

Some side effects of Lavrio May include:

It is strongly advised to read the PBS fact sheet to understand the side effects of these antivirals.

A generic image of three different drugs, packaged in boxes and small jars, which are used to treat COVID.
Ideally, oral antiviral treatments are given within 12 to 24 hours of a positive test.(ABC News: Mary Lloyd)

Who should not take antivirals?

If you are Pregnant Where breastfeedingyou should not take antivirals.

those with severe kidney or liver disease should not be given Paxlovid.

Mr Butler said it was important people kept in touch with their GP.

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