Pfizer's COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid
Pfizer's COVID-19 pill, Paxlovid Pfizer/Handout via REUTERS

Health Canada on Monday approved Pfizer’s drug, Paxlovid, as the first take-home treatment for COVID-19, The National Post reported.

The public health agency recommended that immunocompromised people be the top priority for the medication, followed by unvaccinated or partially vaccinated people over 80 years old, people in their 60s and people in rural and remote communities where access to hospital care could be difficult.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US granted emergency authorization to Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pill in late December.

The FDA cleared the pill for patients 12 and up with mild to moderate COVID who are most likely to end up hospitalized or not survive. The agency said it should be prescribed as soon as possible after diagnosis and within five days of symptom onset.

Pfizer’s pill is the first oral antiviral drug authorized by the FDA that is specifically designed to fight COVID-19.

Israel’s Health Ministry also authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 pill. The first shipment of the pills arrived in Israel in late December.

Canadian provinces will receive shipments of Paxlovid on a per-capita basis and will be the ultimate arbitrators of who gets the medication while it is in short supply, according to The National Post.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the unvaccinated are high on the priority list, because they are more likely to end up in hospital with severe illness.

She stressed, however, the treatments are no substitute for vaccination.

“This is another tool in the toolkit to fight the pandemic. It is important that everyone gets fully vaccinated and receive a booster, as soon as they are eligible,” added Tam.

A first shipment of the pills arrived in Canada over the weekend, with just over 30,000 courses of treatment arriving.

Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi, said Canada expects another 120,000 courses to arrive before the end of February as part of the initial order for a million treatments, with more to come after that. The government also has an option for 500,000 more courses of treatment after that.