Providing antiviral medicine for COVID-19 to eligible people will become the key focus of primary and community pharmacy care from 1st October, ensuring people most at risk of serious outcomes from the virus receive the support they need.
Most people who get COVID-19 have a mild to moderate illness and can safely recover at home, while others at higher risk of serious outcomes can benefit significantly from antiviral medicine.
The continued support with a focus on antiviral medicine reflects the transition to managing COVID-19 in the same way as other acute respiratory conditions.
Antiviral medicine will be available in both primary care and community pharmacy for those who meet Pharmac's access criteria. This supports those at higher risk of serious outcomes from COVID-19, including hospitalisation, free of charge.
Emphasis is also being placed on the importance of people staying up to date with recommended COVID-19 vaccinations.
“Having the latest COVID-19 vaccination or booster will help protect those most at risk from serious illness,” says Dr William Rainger, National Public Health Service, Te Whatu Ora.
“We also recommend anyone testing positive, using a Rapid Antigen Test or RAT, to stay at home and isolate for 5 days and report the result through My Covid Record.
“They should also wear a mask if they need to leave isolation for any reason, and not visit a healthcare location, except to access medical care, or where there may be people at higher risk. While no longer mandated, isolating and mask wearing remain important in preventing the spread of COVID-19, as well as other respiratory illnesses.
“We are encouraging people to check the Pharmac website and ask their doctor, pharmacist or hauora provider if they think they, or someone in their whānau, may be eligible for free antiviral medicines.”
People can get a prescription for antivirals from their doctor or hauora provider, and many pharmacies can supply antiviral medicine without a prescription.
“The primary care and pharmacy sector has worked incredibly hard this year and shown us how well we can deliver antiviral medicines for COVID-19. This has had a very positive impact and kept New Zealanders safe. We’d really like to thank those providing care and are pleased we can continue this support as we move into the summer of 2023 and next year,” says Dr Rainger.
The new Model of Care, with its focus on those most at risk and providing antiviral medicine to those who are eligible, is expected to be in place until 29th February 2024, with funding being reviewed in December 2023 as part of the Half Year Financial Update.
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Free antiviral medicine is available to people who:
- have COVID-19 and symptoms, or are a Household Contact and have symptoms,
- became sick within the last 5 days, and
- meet one of the additional antiviral eligibility criteria, see below
Eligible people include:
- Māori or Pacific people aged 50 years or older
- everyone aged 65 years or older
- anyone aged 50 years or older with fewer than two Covid vaccinations
- anyone with a severely weakened immune system
- anyone with Down syndrome
- anyone with sickle cell disease
- anyone previously in critical or high dependency hospital care from Covid
- anyone with a disability who is at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19
- anyone with frailty or vulnerability due to one or more severe health conditions
- you are also eligible if you have 3 or more high-risk factors for severe illness from COVID-19.
Visit COVID19.health.nz to identify if you meet the criteria for ‘high risk of severe illness’ or are ‘severely immunocompromised’.
Guidance documents about the Model of Care for Primary Care from 1st October 2023 can be found here and for pharmacy can be found here.