By the end of April, Saskatchewan had received about 4,800 Paxlovid courses. By May 9, she had prescribed only a tenth of that.

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Saskatchewan has dramatically expanded access to a key COVID-19 drug, apparently to get it off the shelves and into the hands of patients faster.

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The Department of Health will now allow select doctors, nurses and 170 pharmacies across Saskatchewan to prescribe Paxlovid, an antiviral drug reserved for at-risk patients.

“It’s about making the drug available to those who qualify as quickly as possible and as easily as possible,” said Michael Fougere, CEO of the Saskatchewan Pharmacists Association.

Previously, the drug was only prescribed through a central Saskatchewan Health Department team.

dr Satchan Takaya, an infectious disease doctor who is helping to lead the province’s COVID-19 therapy work, said the new model will help prescribe the drug faster. It must be administered within five days of the onset of symptoms. She said the SHA needed time to learn how the new drug works, especially since it cannot be stacked with a list of other common drugs.

“A lot of people wanted quick access – that’s the key. It’s really important to get that in the first five days,” Takaya said.

In late April, the Health Ministry reported that the province had received about 4,800 courses of the drug. AIn May, Saskatchewan ordered just 482 courses.

dr Stephen Lee, another infectious diseases doctor who leads the agency’s programming, said the goal isn’t to deplete the province’s supplies. He and Takaya said the key is making sure it’s used appropriately, especially as officials emphasize that it’s not a substitute for a vaccination.

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“We don’t give medicine just because we have it. We give it to people who need it,” Takaya said.

These people include:

— Persons over 70 years of age with an underlying disease;

— people considered to be immunocompromised;

— Unvaccinated patients who are either 55 years of age or older or have a disease that puts them at high risk.

Fougere said pharmacists are trained to screen patients for the criteria and would accept rapid PCR or antigen tests as proof of infection. Lee hopes it’ll be that much easier to get the drug.

“It’s just more convenient for a patient to stop by the pharmacy or their family doctor,” Lee said.

Hospitalizations are declining, vaccinations are stagnating

The number of hospitalized patients in Saskatchewan with COVID-19 continued to decline this week. The province’s latest epidemiological report says 270 patients were hospitalized with the virus as of Wednesday midday, compared with 321 the week before. Fourteen people with COVID-19 were in intensive care.

Another 22 residents with COVID-19 were reported dead last week. Saskatchewan recorded 1,364 deaths between March 2020 and May 14, 2022, with 409 so far this year.

Department data shows that in Saskatchewan, unvaccinated patients 12 and older are twice as likely to be hospitalized as patients who received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine and are five times more likely to be hospitalized than those who received a third “booster.” have received. Dose.

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These ratios are even more dramatic for patients admitted to the intensive care unit and patients who die.

However, uptake of the vaccine in the province has stagnated, with little sign of improvement. The province administered just 16,317 doses between May 8 and 14, the vast majority of them “second booster doses” to at-risk individuals who had already had three shots.

Only 1,384 people received their first booster shot and fewer than 700 received a first or second shot.

About one in five eligible residents of Saskatchewan is unvaccinated, the second-worst immunization rate among Canadian provinces after Alberta.

This story has been updated with quotes from Takaya and Lee.

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