Several treatments are being developed to treat COVID-19.
These include anti-inflammatory and antiviral drugs and antibody treatments. While anti-inflammatory medications prevent the immune system from overreacting to the virus, antiviral drugs prevent them from reproducing inside the body.
Antibody treatments prevent viruses from invading cells and causing further damage.
What kinds of medication are available for people with COVID-19 in Australia?
Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) assesses the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 treatments before provisionally approving their use in the country.
The TGA has approved molnupiravir (Lageviro) and nirmatrelvir + ritonavir (Paxlovid) and remdesivir (Veklury) as antiviral treatments.
These treatments ostensibly stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus from replicating and causing severe illness.
Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd said lageviro and paxlovid are oral drugs and available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
Professor Kidd said people aged 65 and over and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and over can access these drugs if they have at least two risk factors.
In addition, moderate to severe immunocompromised people who are 18 and above can avail these drugs.
"People need to have a positive RT-PCR or RAT test for their general practitioners (GPs) to write a prescription for lageviro and paxlovid," Professor Kidd said.
These treatments help people from becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 and help to keep them out of hospitals. These treatments can be life-saving
Professor Kidd advised that people need to start the treatment within five days of getting symptoms.
Earlier the people can start the treatment, the better
The risk factors include:
- Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated (one dose)
- People in residential aged or disability care
- People who are 75 and over
- Those who have respiratory conditions (like moderate to severe asthma requiring steroid therapy or obstructive airways disease) or neurological conditions (like stroke or dementia)
- People with type I and type II diabetes requiring medications
- People with congestive heart failure
- People with obesity with a body mass index of more than 30
- People with renal failure, people with cirrhosis and those who have liver diseases
Immunocompromised people aged 18 and over include:
- People with active cancer (particularly lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma and myelodysplastic syndrome)
- Those who had an organ or recent bone marrow transplants
- People with HIV AIDS
- People taking chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer
- People taking medications that can suppress the immune system
- People with down syndrome
- People with a severe intellectual and physical disabilities requiring residential care
- People with cerebral palsy, thalassemia and other haemoglobinopathies with sickle disease and congenital heart disease
Professor Kidd said GPs need to review all medicines a person is taking before prescribing these antiviral drugs, especially paxlovid.
"Paxlovid can't be taken if the person is on one or more medications. It can't be used if the person has severe kidney or liver disease, is pregnant or breastfeeding, and is sexually active of childbearing age. It is important that you use contraception while taking these treatments," he said.
Remdesivir is only available to severely unwell Australians requiring oxygen or high-level support to breathe.
However, a recent World Health Organisation (WHO) funded study in Lancet shows remdesivir has no significant effect on patients with COVID-19 who are already being ventilated. The drug has a small effect against death or progression to ventilation (or both) among other hospitalised patients.
Monoclonal antibody treatments involve laboratory-made proteins that mimic the body's immune system to help fight off harmful viruses, including coronavirus.
TGA has provisionally approved 500 mg sotrovimab (Xevudy) as an intravenous infusion for people aged 12 and over and weighing at least 40 kg. They don't require oxygen and are at increased risk of hospitalisation or death.
TGA is reviewing an application from drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline for a higher dose of sotrovimab in people suspected to have an infection from Omicron BA.2 sublineage.
The BA.2 sublineage, also known as the stealth version of Omicron, is currently dominating Australia and other countries.
The US Food and Drug Administration, however, revoked its authorisation of sotrovimab on 5 April.
TGA's other provisionally approved treatments include casirivimab + imdevimab (Ronapreve), tocilizumab (Actemra), regdanvimab (Regkirona) and tixagevimab and cilgavimab (Evusheld).
TGA said antibiotics and medicines such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine are ineffective against viruses that cause COVID-19 and are not approved for treatment in Australia.
If you have any of the following symptoms, call emergency services on 000 immediately and tell the phone operator you’ve previously been diagnosed with COVID-19.
- severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- severe chest pain or pressure
- a new or returning fever
- worsening ability to concentrate and increased confusion
- difficulty waking up
If you experience other symptoms after recovering from COVID-19, get in touch with your GP or other health provider (source: Healthdirect).
SBS is committed to providing all COVID-19 updates to Australia’s multicultural and multilingual communities. Stay safe and stay informed by visiting regularly the SBS Coronavirus portal, with the latest in your language.