PSNC has highlighted the potential for community pharmacies to distribute Covid-19 oral antiviral treatments to patients in the future, despite pharmacies not being involved in initial plans to give access to the most vulnerable through GP practices.

The Government has announced that thousands of vulnerable patients in the UK and those over 50 will now have access to Covid-19 antiviral treatments in the community through GP hubs, following a positive PCR test. Patients will receive their medication via an online pharmacy.

Treatment is being provided through the PANORAMIC study, run by the University of Oxford, which will recruit 10,000 patients at risk of serious illness from Covid-19 to take the antiviral treatment molnupiravir at home after receiving a positive PCR test.

Commenting on the announcement, Alastair Buxton, Director of NHS Services at PSNC said: ‘PSNC absolutely supports the PANORAMIC trial to test the impact that life-saving antiviral and antibody treatments could have when used in the community.

‘If the findings of the trial are positive, there is no doubt that community pharmacy teams would be the best people to distribute the oral antivirals – making sure people have easy access to critical medicines, safely, is what we do best. And pharmacies have proven, through the success of the Pandemic Delivery Service, that they can do this in a Covid-safe way that gets medicines to people in their homes.

‘DHSC and NHSE&I are still in the planning stages of how distribution might work pending the trial results, and PSNC is actively engaged in those discussions which are considering the various logistical challenges that apply to the timely distribution of the products.’

How will the PANORAMIC study work?

Eligible patients will include those aged 50 and over or 18 to 49 with an underlying health condition that puts them more at risk of severe Covid-19.

Patients may be contacted by the study team or their GP to take part but can also sign themselves up through the through the study’s website.

Participants will be randomised to receive either the molnupiravir plus the current standard care, or the current standard of care without the antiviral so researchers can further assess whether it reduced the need for people to be admitted to hospital.

In addition, those most at risk of severe disease including people who are immunocompromised, cancer patients or those with Down’s syndrome will also be able to access either molnupiravir or the novel monoclonal antibody Ronapreve outside of the study from 16 December.

This follows clinical trial data that molnupiravir cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death for at-risk, non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate Covid-19 by 30% and Ronapreve reduced the risk by 70%.

The MHRA approved its use in November. Ministers had ordered 480,000 doses of the antiviral – which is taken as a twice daily pill.

Eligible patients who receive a positive test will be assessed over the phone by an expert clinician from an NHS Covid Medicines Delivery Unit (CMDU), who will review and discuss with the patient what the most appropriate treatment would be for them.

England deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam hailed antivirals as ‘a vital intervention for years to come, helping to protect those that can’t mount the same antibody response to the vaccines.’

Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘This opens up a new era for the treatment of Covid-19, one where we can begin to cover every phase of contracting this deadly disease – whether it be before you catch it, just after you catch it, if you develop symptoms or if you require hospital care.

A version of this article was originally published on The Pharmacist sister publication Pulse.