Health Minister Jason Copping announced changes Wednesday aimed at making the COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid easier for eligible Albertans to access.
The antiviral medication can lower the chances of experiencing severe outcomes in people who contract the novel coronavirus.
“We’ve been working to transition the prescribing process to family physicians and other primary care providers,” Copping said at a news conference in Edmonton. “Albertans who meet the clinical criteria for Paxlovid can be assessed for treatment and obtain a prescription directly from a physician, nurse practitioner or pharmacist.
“This change will make it faster and easier to access the drug and begin treatment which must be started within five days of the onset of symptoms.”
READ MORE: Alberta patients, advocates call for increased access to COVID-19 antiviral Paxlovid
Paxlovid is currently available to Albertans who either are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19, have certain pre-existing health conditions, are pregnant, are immunocompromised or are living in long-term care or designated supportive living facility. For more detailed eligibilty criteria, click here.
While more medical professionals will immediately be able to prescribe the antiviral medication, Copping warned that some service providers will need more time to learn about Paxlovid before they feel comfortable prescribing it. He added that Albertans are also still able to contact Alberta Health Services to see if they can be prescribed the medication.
Copping added that the province will also begin to allow positive results from rapid COVID-19 tests to count as proof of being COVID-19 positive.
“It can be a test done at home and then confirmed by a prescriber or one that a prescriber administers in their own clinic,” he said.
So far, over 1,700 Paxlovid prescription have been written in Alberta since the pandemic began, Copping said.
“We have more than 29,000 courses of treatment in stock so don’t hesitate to pursue this treatment option.”
Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta
At the same news conference, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced that 69 deaths linked to COVID-19 were reported between April 26 and May 2. She said the youngest person among those fatalities was only 28 while the oldest was 102.
She added that the number of people in Alberta hospitals with COVID-19 is at 1,267 and that 46 of those people are being treated in intensive care units. The previous week’s numbers showed there were 1,220 people in hospital with COVID-19 as of April 25. Of those people, 47 were being treated in intensive care.
Alberta Health reported Wednesday that 5,754 new COVID-19 cases were identified via PCR tests between April 26 and May 2. However, health officials have said the total number of new and active COVID-19 cases is likely far higher than what is being reported because so few Albertans are eligible for a PCR test. Hinshaw noted that the positivity rate with regard to PCR testing in Alberta between April 26 and May 2 was about 23 per cent, a slight decrease from the previous week.
Copping said that while much of the province, including Edmonton and Lethbridge, is seeing either sharp declines in COVID-19 wastewater data or figures “well below their BA.1 peaks,” Calgary’s numbers remain high.
He said Edmonton’s wastewater levels have been dropping for about two weeks while Lethbridge’s have been dropping for about a week.
“This is good news,” Copping said. “It looks like we’re passing the peak of BA.2 circulation with less impact than we saw with BA.1 thanks to vaccine and prior exposure.
“But hospital admissions are still rising and they’ll continue to rise for a few more weeks, even assuming virus levels continue to decline.”
He added that the province’s health-care system remains “under significant stress” and staff at those facilities are “under real strain.”