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Quebec set to distribute Pfizer’s pill to treat COVID-19, but with limited availability

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Watch: Quebec's health experts say we could be reaching the peak of the Omicron-fueled fifth wave. And now, they're adding a new tool to the fight, Pfizer's pill to combat the disease. But as Global’s Gloria Henriquez reports, not everyone will be able to get it. – Jan 18, 2022

Quebec authorities are getting ready to distribute Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid to the population, one day after it was approved by Health Canada.

For the first three months of the year, treatment will be available in very limited quantities as production from the manufacturer gears up.

“It’s very good news that will eventually help us prevent hospitalizations,” said Dr. Lucie Opatrny, associate deputy health minister responsible for hospital services, at a news conference Tuesday.

Read more: Paxlovid, Pfizer’s oral COVID-19 pill, approved in Canada

Quebec is set to receive enough treatment for 6,300 people in January and then about 6,200 in February. The province expects to have enough to treat between 10,000 and 20,000 people in March.

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“It’s of very limited quantity for now,” Opatrny said.

Paxlovid can be given to adults 18 and older who are positive for COVID-19 and are experiencing mild or moderate illness, and who are at high risk of becoming more seriously ill, Health Canada said Monday.

Given limited availability, authorities in Quebec have decided to reserve the distribution of Paxlovid to those who are identified as the most vulnerable patients. This includes adults who are immunocompromised and who don’t take other medication that could interfere with Paxlovid.

The offer could be extended to other people at high risk and who are not adequately protected as availability of the antiviral pill expands.

Eligibility will be determined in health establishments, such as oncology clinics. If you are a patient who is considered at risk for complications from COVID-19, you must notify your medical team immediately.

READ MORE: New Pfizer COVID-19 pill reduces hospital, death risk by 90%, company says

The team who follows the at-risk patient will analyze the case and will communicate with one of the designated participating pharmacies in the patient’s area.

A caregiver can then pick up the Paxlovid treatment or it will be delivered.

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The treatment won’t be available to those who aren’t considered at risk, for now.

Thousands of health-care workers still off the job

Health Minister Christian Dubé said health-care workers who were off the job due to COVID-19 are gradually returning to work.

Earlier this month, the province said about 20,000 workers were absent — adding pressure to already overwhelmed hospitals as infections jumped. As of Tuesday, about 12,000 employees remain at home.

The situation could still be better, according to Dubé. He explained the network was lacking around 12,000 health-care workers at its peak during the pandemic’s first fatal wave in 2020.

“Yes, it’s gone down but we’re missing a significant amount of people,” Dubé told reporters.

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Dr. Luc Boileau, the province’s interim public health director, said that it appears Quebec has reached its peak of COVID-19 cases of the current wave.

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But authorities are still urging caution, as pandemic-related hospitalizations remain high. Dubé said hospital numbers are not rising as quickly, but that they are still on the uptick for now.

The health minister also said it is too soon to lift public health orders that have shut bars, restaurants and gyms.

“I know it’s tough; it’s tough for everybody,” Dubé said, adding that measures will be lifted gradually.

with files from Global News’ Aaron D’Andrea and The Canadian Press

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