Swann announces roll-out of new COVID treatments for high risk patients

Date published: 23 December 2021

Health Minister Robin Swann has announced the roll-out of new and effective treatments for COVID-19 patients who are most at risk of serious illness.

The treatments, previously only available to hospitalised patients, are now authorised for use in non-hospitalised patients to reduce the risk of severe illness and death. The use of these novel drug therapies for high risk patients identified in the community will also reduce the number of people who need to be admitted to hospital, thus helping to ease pressures on the health service over the challenging winter months.

The Minister said: “Access to these treatments is in addition to COVID-19 vaccines, which remain the most important intervention for protecting people from infection. Having additional measures is important now more than ever with the discovery of new variants of concern, including Omicron.  

 “These type of treatments are already used by the health service to treat patients who are hospitalised with severe COVID-19, and have been shown to improve survival and recovery time. The roll-out of these treatments to patients at high risk in the community is a significant milestone in our battle against COVID-19 and will provide an additional layer of support for the most vulnerable in society.’’

 Two types of COVID-19 treatment are available at this time (others may become available later):

·       neutralising monoclonal antibodies (nMABs).This is usually administered as a single intravenous infusion delivered as an outpatient. .

·       oral antiviral medicine, currently molnupiravir (Lagevrio), which is usually taken in capsule form at home.  

The Minister welcomed the announcement by the UK Government that it has signed two new contracts to secure millions more cutting-edge antiviral treatments for COVID-19.  The significant new deals have been accelerated following the emergence of the Omicron variant to protect vulnerable people over the coming months. The two new contracts are for 1.75m additional courses of molnupiravir (Lagevrio) and 2.5m additional courses of Paxlovid which is expected to be authorised early next year. Both treatments are expected to be effective against Omicron.

Minister Swann said: “Patients in Northern Ireland will benefit from these national procurement contracts. Our COVID-19 booster programme continues at unparalleled pace and it’s vital we further bolster our response to the virus by ensuring access to the world’s best treatments.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said: These new treatments are designed to be used in the earliest stages of infection for high risk patients as soon as possible after a positive PCR test result has been received. Some will be delivered intravenously at hospital sites and others will be taken at home.

“An independent advisory group has advised on a range of health conditions which mean people might be more at risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19. This has been agreed by the Chief Medical Officers across the four nations. These patients may benefit from the new treatments due to their risk of developing severe disease.

“They include patients with certain immune conditions, or who have recently received treatment for cancer or are an organ transplant recipient. It’s vital that we do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable patients and prevent them, as far as possible, from becoming very seriously ill with COVID-19.”

The new nMAB treatments are for people aged 12 and over and oral antivirals for people aged 18 and over, who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are at highest risk of getting seriously ill. This includes people who have:

  • Down's syndrome
  • sickle cell disease
  • certain types of cancer
  • had chemotherapy in the last 3 months or chemotherapy grades B and C in the last 12 months
  • had radiotherapy in the last 6 months
  • patients with kidney disease (including CKD stage 4 and 5)
  • severe liver conditions
  • a condition or treatment that makes you more likely to get infections
  • HIV or AIDS
  • had an organ or stem cell transplant
  • a rare condition affecting the brain or nerves (including multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Huntington’s disease or myasthenia gravis)

Eligible patients who receive a positive PCR test result will receive a text message and a follow-up phone call from their local HSC Trust and will be assessed by a clinician from the Outpatient COVID-19 Treatment Services (OCTs) unit for their suitability for treatment.

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer Cathy Harrison said:

‘‘I am delighted that our most vulnerable people are to receive cutting-edge antiviral and antibody treatments for COVID-19. These medicines do not replace the important role of vaccines in protecting everyone, but significantly enhance our treatment options.”

Further information is available on nidirect: https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/treatments-coronavirus-covid-19


Notes to editors: 

1.     There are now treatments authorised for use in non-hospitalised patients with COVID-19 to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death. These include monoclonal antibody treatments and the first of the two oral antivirals procured by the Antivirals Taskforce, molnupiravir (Lagevrio), which was approved by the Medicines Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on 4th November 2021. There will be two routes to accessing these new treatments for non-hospitalised patients:  

Direct access for highest risk groups  

The first route is for those in the highest risk groups from COVID-19 who receive a positive PCR test. They will be able to access COVID-19 treatments directly in the Health Service and will be contacted by a clinician to discuss the treatment. More information on the patient cohorts considered at highest risk from COVID-19 and to be prioritised for treatment with nMABs is available in Appendix 1 of the UK Clinical Policy here

The National Antivirals Study - PANORAMIC

Oral antiviral agents will also be available through a new nationwide drug study, PANORAMIC, which is being run by the University of Oxford. Patients in Northern Ireland, will be able to access these treatments through participation in the UK PANORAMIC study site: www.panoramictrial.org (external link opens in a new window / tab). This study is open to individuals who meet the following criteria:

• have received a PCR positive test for COVID-19;

• feel unwell with symptoms of COVID-19 that started in the last five days;

• are aged 50 and over, or 18-49 years old with an underlying medical condition that can increase the risk of developing severe COVID-19.

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