Patients in China are scrambling to find leading anti-viral drugs for the coronavirus after the country abandoned its policy of zero transmission of COVID-19 without stockpiling a key treatment used by the US and other Western countries.
Pfizer’s antiviral drug Paxlovid is covered by state insurance and is supposed to cost $29, but the drug is hard to come by and some patients report paying huge mark-ups, according to Reuters, which documented the experiences of patients and families.
One man in Hainan province said he paid nearly $3,000 for two boxes of Paxlovid, which is a combination of two drugs and has reduced the risk of hospitalization by 90% in clinical trials. The boxes are being sold online for the equivalent of about US$320, but are selling out quickly.
China is adapting on the fly as it pivots from a strict containment strategy to a softer policy that allowed the virus to tear society apart.
Scientists are concerned about further numbers, given the lack of immunity from previous infection and the belief that Chinese vaccines are not as effective as messenger RNA shots used in the West.
Many Chinese residents will be traveling to visit relatives to celebrate the Lunar New Year, meaning the virus or its variants could travel with them to new areas.
Paxlovid was approved in 2021 and over the past year has gradually become the drug of choice, especially for older adults, in the US. The White House boasted that it had secured enough stock to handle any winter surge in infections.
China, meanwhile, is stuck playing catch-up. It recently approved Merck & Co.’s leading COVID-19 drug, while Pfizer said it has shipped thousands of courses to the country, with millions more on the way.
“Pfizer is actively working with the Chinese authorities and all stakeholders to ensure an adequate supply of Paxlovid in China,” the company told Reuters. “We remain committed to meeting the treatment needs of Chinese patients for COVID-19 and working with the Chinese government.”