Canada secures orders of Merck, Pfizer COVID-19 antiviral pills

Click to play video: 'Ottawa signs deals to buy COVID-19 antiviral pills from Merck, Pfizer'
Ottawa signs deals to buy COVID-19 antiviral pills from Merck, Pfizer
WATCH: Ottawa signs deals to buy COVID-19 antiviral pills from Merck, Pfizer – Dec 3, 2021

The federal government has signed purchase agreements with two pharmaceutical companies for their oral COVID-19 treatments.

Filomena Tassi, Canada’s minister of public services and procurement, told reporters on Friday the government has signed agreements with Pfizer and Merck to buy up to 1.5 million courses of their antiviral treatment, PF-07321332 and Molnupiravir.

Click to play video: 'Canada signs agreements for 1.5M courses of Pfizer, Merck COVID-19 antiviral pills'
Canada signs agreements for 1.5M courses of Pfizer, Merck COVID-19 antiviral pills
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Both treatments are under Health Canada review, Tassi added.

“We also know that access to effective, easy-to-use treatments is critical to reducing the severity of COVID infections and will help save lives,” she said.

“As soon as these drugs are authorized for use, the government will work on getting them to provinces and territories as quickly as possible so that health-care providers can help Canadians who need them most.”

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As part of its initial order, the government has reached an agreement with Pfizer for one million courses of its treatment, pending Health Canada approval.

The government’s deal with Merck is for up to 500,000 courses of its treatment, with an option to add 500,000 more pending approval, Tassi added.

Click to play video: 'Pfizer, Merck press ahead with pills to treat COVID-19'
Pfizer, Merck press ahead with pills to treat COVID-19

On Wednesday, Pfizer started a rolling submission with Health Canada for its pill, which it said is designed to block a key enzyme needed for the COVID-19 virus to multiply.

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Pfizer also said its treatment can cut the chance of hospitalization or death for adults at risk of severe disease by 89 per cent.

Meanwhile, Merck’s pill is still under review by Health Canada as the company continues its rolling submission.

Last week, Merck shared data suggesting its drug was significantly less effective than previously thought, reducing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk individuals by around 30 per cent.

The treatment has received approval in the United Kingdom.

Cardiologist and epidemiologist Dr. Christopher Labos said that the antiviral pills could potentially limit the strain of COVID-19 on Canada’s health-care system by reducing the effects of the virus, but they don’t “prevent the problem.”

“It just treats the problem,” he said. “In terms of preventing outbreaks, vaccines are clearly the better course of action.”

Labos also pointed out that vaccines are cheaper than the pills, which he said are “rather expensive,” and real-world data is needed to see if their benefit outweighs the cost.

Another concern is the logistics of treating patients with the pills since they have to be administered within five days of infection, according to Labos.

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“We’re going to have to make sure that there is a pathway in place for these medications to actually get to the patients for them to be effective,” he said.

“If you start too late in the course, it’s doubtful they’re going to have much of an impact.”

— with files from The Canadian Press, Reuters and Eric Stober

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