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COVID-19 ALERT

First antiviral pills to treat Covid-19 set to be available in Spain

Paxlovid, the oral antiviral pill which helps reduce the risk of hospitalisation from Covid-19 by 90 percent, is set to arrive in Spain in the coming days.

antiviral pills
Paxlovid pills to arrive in Spain. Photo: GEORGE FREY / AFP

The Spanish Ministry of Health is set to sign an agreement this Thursday to receive the pills, which were developed by  Pfizer, the same pharmaceutical company that developed Spain’s most widely used Covid-19 vaccines.

According to scientists, if the antiviral pills are administered in the first few days after infection in people with mild symptoms, they can reduce hospitalisations of people at risk by around 90 percent.

Starting next week, the pills will be able to be administered to infected patients throughout the country. At first, they will mainly be given to those patients who are at risk of developing serious complications from Covid-19.

Paxlovid in Europe

In January, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) authorised the use of the Paxlovid drug and the Spanish government preordered 350,000 doses.

The first doses have already arrived in nearby countries such as France and Italy.

Paxlovid will be the first orally-administered antiviral drug used in the EU to treat Covid-19.

Pfizer has said that this oral treatment is also effective against the omicron variant. According to the company, the studies suggest that the treatment “has the potential to maintain plasma concentrations much higher than the amount necessary to prevent omicron from replicating in cells”. 

Pricey pills

The antiviral drugs come with a hefty price tag and will be costing Spain’s healthcare system €700 for each set of the 30 pills that complete a five-day course of treatment.

In order to pay for it, the Council of Ministers had to approve an agreement to be able to use a contingency fund and a loan of €253.4 million, intended for the acquisition of medical supplies to fight against Covid-19, including Paxlovid.

It is not yet known whether Paxlovid will be available to purchase in pharmacies and what the cost will be to the patient.

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FACE MASKS

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spain’s Health Ministry has recommended Spaniards put their masks back on in indoor public settings, calling for "caution" as the seventh coronavirus wave sees cases and hospitalisations rise across the country.

Spain calls for return of face masks indoors as Covid cases rise

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias on Friday recommended people wear face masks again in indoor public settings as Covid cases and hospitalisations in late June and early July returned to levels not seen since February 2022.

Darias called for “caution” and “responsible mask usage” at a time of increased travel in Spain and with many doctors and nurses booking off time for their summer holidays.

Similar sentiments about the return of face masks indoors have already been shared by the health authorities in some of Spain’s other regions, including Catalonia and Madrid. 

Catalan Health Minister Josep Maria Argimon recommended that those recovering from Covid should continue to wear a mask due to the increase in Covid patients admitted to the ICU in the region, which has increased from 26 to 46 in the space of three weeks.  

Madrid Vice President Enrique Ossorio also suggested that masks should be reintroduced in certain situations, due to the rise of cases seen in the region. Masks should be worn by “vulnerable people, those who are immunosuppressed and those who are pregnant,” he argued.

Ossorio also recommended that the use of face masks be extended to enclosed public spaces and large events.

After two years of compulsory usage in indoor public settings, Spanish authorities lifted the indoor face mask rule on April 20th, having already removed the requirement for outdoors on February 10th

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Spain’s Health Minister also urged that those aged 80 and over should receive a fourth Covid vaccine dose, but has not specified when this will happen, even though this was already been approved in early June.   

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

“The Health Ministry is going to continue working hand in hand with the advice of experts who’ve introduced an exemplary vaccination strategy,” Darias explained.

On Friday July 1st, 10,249 people were in hospital with Covid-19 in Spain, a figure not seen since February 17th 2022. As for ICU admissions, there were 449 Covid patients in total.

Madrid currently has a fortnightly infection rate of 1,500 cases per 100,00 inhabitants for people aged 60 and over, as Spain stopped counting each and every Covid-19 cases last March and focused only on serious infections and those affecting the elderly. 

That’s why experts are referring to this seventh coronavirus wave as the “silent” one, with no way of truly knowing how many people are getting infected or reinfected in Spain. 

Darias said that the Covid situation is being monitored carefully and that rise in cases is mainly down to the new omicron sub-variants BA4 and BA5, which are more transmissible but are milder than previous variants.

The Minister added that the Spanish government has provided its regions with medicines that are “very important” in the treatment of Covid, such as the antiviral Paxlovid, of which 344,000 sets of pills have been purchased, which help prevent an infected person from developing a serious illness, as well as Evusheld to protect people who do not generate their own antibodies. 

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