round 30,000 vulnerable Covid-19 patients in England have been treated with highly effective “cutting-edge” antiviral drugs which improve symptoms “within hours”, according to the NHS.
The health service said it had procured nearly five million doses of Paxlovid and other antivirals, such as Molnupiravir as part of the latest deal struck by the Government.
Paxlovid, developed by Pfizer, was approved for use in the UK in December and found in trials to slash hospital admissions and deaths by 88%.
More than 5,000 patients have already received Paxlovid, with more than 1,200 patients benefiting in the last week alone, according to the NHS.
Molnupiravir, which clinical trials suggest reduces the risk of hospital admission or death by 30%, was approved in November 2021.
Use of the drugs was introduced for patients outside of hospital in December.
The treatments have been praised by at-risk patients as “brilliant”.
When Cathy Merry, who lives in Duffield, near Derby and suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, became badly ill with Covid, she phoned a helpline for her condition and within hours a clinic at Royal Derby Hospital dispatched a taxi with Paxlovid to her home.
The 49-year-old, who is a professor of stem cell biology at Nottingham University, said she was feeling more normal after four days of starting on the treatment and dreaded to think how bad she would feel without it.
Ms Merry said: “Having these treatments available is just brilliant and we are so lucky to have them for free on the NHS.
“The hospital staff have always been brilliant, but to deal with this so efficiently is absolutely, unbelievably good care.
“I lived in the US and we are so lucky to have the NHS and the brilliant care they give to us all.”
Cathy’s consultant, Dr Francis Kynaston-Pearson said the new medicines gave him “great hope”.
“Healthcare professionals and patients alike have been coming to terms with the impact of Covid-19 and how this has re-shaped our lives”, he said.
“This is particularly true for those patients, such as Cathy, who are at higher risk because their immune systems are weaker due to their condition, or the treatments used to control them.
“It gives me great hope to see new treatments such as Paxlovid being introduced to support such vulnerable patients to allow them to start leading their normal lives again.
“The pandemic may not yet be over, but with new developments like this, I hope we can soon look forward to enjoying life in a similar way to how we did before the pandemic.”
The treatment stops the virus multiplying in cells, helping patients to fight the infection and get better, faster.
It is being used to treat those identified to be at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill with Covid or being admitted to hospital in line with Government guidance.
However, it will be prescribed by clinicians on a case-by-case basis.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS national medical director, said: “It’s fantastic that since launching the latest antiviral treatment Paxlovid just over a month ago, thousands of our most vulnerable patients have already had access to this latest cutting-edge, life-saving treatment.
“Antivirals are another weapon in our arsenal to reduce hospital admissions and fatalities amongst patients at highest risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 and needing hospital admission, each and every person treated with the new drugs is testament to how the NHS is doing everything possible to protect those who are at most risk.”
Free lateral flow tests for most members of the public ended on Friday, except for the over-75s and over-12s with weakened immune systems, but people who are eligible for Paxlovid will be sent the tests to keep at home in case they develop symptoms, the NHS said.