Review antiviral plan

Review antiviral plan

It is a harsh reality that Covid-19 could linger for years with vaccines to tackle it neither highly effective against new variants nor accessible to everyone. The world therefore is throwing its weight behind research and development of antiviral drugs.

The American pharmaceutical company Merck recently revealed research findings that its oral antiviral drug Molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death by 50% based on a late-stage clinical trial.

The trial was conducted in countries in Latin America, Europe and Africa among 775 adults defined as at risk, non-hospitalised adult patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19 conditions.

Apart from the above result, the study also showed there were no deaths among patients who received the drug compared to eight deaths in the placebo group.

Following the announcement, countries in the Asia-Pacific region have rushed to secure purchase contracts for Molnupiravir. Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea have reportedly struck deals with Merck to buy the drug.

For Thailand, the government says it plans to buy 200,000 treatment courses of Molnupiravir under the company's plan to manufacture 10 million courses by the end of this year. One course of the drug takes five days with four capsules twice a day, or 40 pills for each course.

A draft agreement to buy Molnupiravir pills is complete and will be scrutinised by the government's legal body before the deal is signed. The drug is expected to arrive Thailand in December.

The government is right to move quickly to secure the drug as existing vaccines are not 100% effective against new variants and the government started the mass vaccination process late.

Still, what the government should do is adjust its plan to buy the antivirals it has already placed orders to buy.

Currently, Thailand relies on two antiviral drugs, Favipiravir and Remdesivir, to treat Covid-19 patients.

Remdesivir has to be administered intravenously.

The Ministry of Public Health has mainly prescribed Favipiravir, originally developed by a Japanese pharmaceutical firm, to treat patients in hospitals.

During the past 18 months, the government has boosted stockpiles of this medicine by importing and recently producing it at the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO) facility.

Many health experts remain in doubt about the efficacy of Favipiravir for Covid-19 treatment.

Research shows there is no statistically significant difference in the mortality rate between a Favipiravir-administered group and a control group.

Several countries have yet to approve the antiviral drug to be used in Covid-19 treatment, including the US and EU.

Nevertheless, the Thai government had built up a drug stockpile from 15 million pills to more than 120 million pills by September and it plans to add more 100 million pills a month until the end of this year.

With the emergence of Molnupiravir and its better efficacy, the government should learn from its mishandling of Covid-19 vaccine procurements in the past and immediately adjust its procurement plan for Favipiravir.

As long as stocks of Favipiravir are still mounting, doctors will be forced to administer Favipiravir instead of Molnupiravir despite the fact the latter has higher efficacy.

The government must reduce its stockpile of Favipiravir to reach an optimal level, and step up efforts to build up Molnupiravir stocks.

The government's duty is to care for public health and the people deserve nothing less.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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