Just 65 doses of an antiviral pill that prevents people becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 have been given to Irish patients.
Paxlovid, previously hailed by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly as a "game-changer" in fighting the virus, has been available for over a month, but in that time only 13 doses have been given in hospitals and 52 in the community.
Use of the drug, which is effective against the Omicron variant, is confined in Ireland to people "at the highest risk" from Covid-19. In the United States, where it has been available since the start of the year to at-risk people aged over 12, more than 670,000 doses have been prescribed.
Infectious disease consultant Dr Eoghan de Barra says he has prescribed the drug, made by pharma giant Pfizer, to a very small number of severely immunocompromised patients with persistent Covid-19.
“It’s great to have it, but we probably haven’t needed it as much as we thought we might. We were lucky in that vaccines proved so efficacious,” he said. “But you never know, we might need it more in a few months.”
In trials, Paxlovid has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death from Covid-19 by 89 per cent, but as Dr de Barra pointed out, these studies involved unvaccinated patients at a time when the more lethal Delta variant was dominant.
Dr Colm Henry, Health Service Executive chief clinical officer said: "We're happy to see another available therapy coming on stream to augment our care for those most at risk from Covid-19. Paxlovid is now available, and is provided in tablet form as opposed to an infusion in hospital."
Use of another new treatment, Sotrovimab, has effectively halted in Irish hospitals, HSE data shows, with just 15 further doses dispensed over the last month. The HSE says it is less effective against the currently circulating BA.2 form of Omicron.
A third promising treatment, Evusheld, seems unlikely to be available for some time as it is still going through a review process. A full technology assessment of the product has begun.