KUALA LUMPUR: The government will review the procurement of antivirals to treat Covid-19 patients following the emergence of new drugs for this purpose, says Deputy Health Minister Datuk Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali.
He said the review was in light of recent announcements by manufacturers Pfizer and AstraZeneca that they had succeeded in producing Covid-19 antiviral drugs.
"In line with this, the Health Ministry will review the purchase of antiviral drugs to adapt to its needs.
"This will be done according to the availability of the RM172mil allocation approved to purchase Covid-19 medicine," he said in reply to Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (PH-Kuala Selangor) in the Dewan Rakyat on Monday (Dec 6).
He clarified that the decision to procure 150,000 courses of Molnupiravir from Merck Sharp & Dohme in early October was made because it was the only oral Covid-19 antiviral drug at that time.
In November, Pfizer applied for emergency authorisation of the use of its antiviral Paxlovid in the United States after data showed that it was 89% effective at preventing Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths.
In October, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it had started evaluating AstraZeneca's anti-Covid cocktail called Evusheld, said to significantly reduce severe Covid-19 cases or death in non-hospitalised patients with mild to moderate symptoms.
On Oct 7, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced an agreement to purchase Molnupiravir from Merck Sharp & Dohme.
This decision, he said, was in preparation for Malaysia's move into the endemic phase and living with the Covid-19 virus.
Research conducted by Merck showed that Molnupiravir is able to reduce 50% of hospital admissions and is effective against more infectious variants of Covid-19 including Gamma, Delta and Mu.
The antiviral pill will be given free of charge to Covid-19 patients who are symptomatic for at least five days or patients in categories three, four and five.
On a separate issue, Dr Noor Azmi said the ministry is at the final stage of the tender process to procure 460 ambulances and related equipment to address ambulance shortages in certain areas of the country.
He said the ambulances would be deployed to these areas in phases.