A second antiviral pill for people most at risk of serious illness from Covid-19 has been approved to be rolled out in the UK from next month, the Government has announced.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said today (28 January) that a second antiviral treatment for Covid-19, Paxlovid, will be made available to people with weakened immune systems from 10 February.

Paxlovid, manufactured by Pfizer, has been found to reduce the relative risk of Covid-19-associated hospitalisation or death by 88% in those who received treatment within five days of developing symptoms.

The drug will be available to those people who are immunocompromised, such as people with cancer or those with Down’s syndrome, DHSC said.

The antiviral molnupiravir – offered to patients through the PANORAMIC study – and monoclonal antibody sotrovimab, are both already being used to treat almost 10,000 high-risk patients in the UK, according to DHSC figures.

Sajid Javid, health secretary, commented: ‘Our pharmaceutical defences are crucial as we learn to live with Covid-19 and the UK is leading the way, especially when it comes to the use of cutting-edge antivirals.

‘This is an important milestone – especially as Paxlovid® has been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for vulnerable patients by 88%, meaning potentially thousands of lives could be saved.

‘We will set out further details on access to the new antiviral soon – until then, anyone who is eligible who tests positive for Covid-19 and has symptoms should sign-up to the PANORAMIC trial for the chance to receive our other antiviral, molnupiravir.’

People within eligible groups have already been informed by the NHS that should they test positive for Covid-19, they will be eligible for treatment, the Government said.

It said: ‘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.

‘Those being prescribed a monoclonal antibody treatment will be invited to attend the CMDU, while those receiving PF-07321332+ritonavir can either get someone to collect it for them or have it delivered to their home.’

The Government has procured 2.75 million courses of PF-07321332+ritonavir – which was approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in December – as well as 2.23 million courses of molnupiravir.

Prescription charges for patients who test positive for Covid-19 and are eligible for antiviral drugs have previously been waived by the DHSC until 31 March 2022.

In December, PSNC highlighted the potential for community pharmacies in England 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.