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S Korea gets first supply of Pfizer’s COVID-19 pills

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – South Korea yesterday received its first supply of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pills to treat patients with mild or moderate symptoms.

Health officials have described the Paxlovid pills as a potentially important tool to suppress hospitalisations and deaths, as the country braces for another possible surge in infections driven by the contagious Omicron variant.

South Korea’s initial supply is enough to support the required five-day treatment courses for 21,000 people. Officials said another batch of pills, enough to provide the required five-day courses for 10,000 people, will come by the end of January.

Workers were seen unloading containers of the pills from a plane at Incheon International Airport. The pills will be moved to a pharmaceutical warehouse in central South Korea before being administered to patients nationwide starting today.

Because supplies of Paxlovid will be tight at the start amid global shortages, the pills will initially be available only to patients 65 years or older who are being treated at home or in shelters for mild or moderate symptoms.

“In clinical trials, this drug has showed it could reduce the risk of hospitalisations or deaths by 88 per cent, so we are hoping for a similar level of (real world) effectiveness,” said Lim Sook-young, a senior official in the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety is also reviewing whether to grant an emergency use authorisation for Merck’s antiviral COVID-19 pills, Molnupiravir.

Workers transport a cargo shipment containing the first batches of Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19 pill at the Incheon International Airport. PHOTO: AP