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Health officials reportedly fear new Pfizer COVID pills will end up on black market

Limited supply of Paxlovid antiviral medication will be distributed to patients at home; ‘Only a matter of time’ until they are sold illegally, official says

Image provided by Pfizer in October 2021 shows the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills. (Pfizer via AP)
Image provided by Pfizer in October 2021 shows the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills. (Pfizer via AP)

Senior officials in the Health Ministry fear Pfizer’s new COVID-19 medication will end up on the black market in Israel, according to a Saturday report.

The Health Ministry granted emergency approval for the antiviral oral medication, Paxlovid, last week. The first shipment of several tens of thousands of pills landed in Israel on Thursday.

The drug is said to have mild side effects and has shown a nearly 90 percent reduction in hospitalizations and deaths among patients most likely to suffer severe illness. Israel is among the first countries to receive the medication.

The Health Ministry is expected to begin administering Paxlovid to sick patients in the coming days, Channel 12 reported. The medication is said to cost the country around $530 per patient, though it isn’t yet clear what the price will be for Israeli patients.

The patients who receive the drug will have light symptoms but will be at high risk of a severe infection if the disease progresses.

Health providers will send teams out to distribute the pills to patients who are quarantined at home. The medical personnel will explain how to take the pills, then leave them with the patient, meaning a patient could decide to hold onto the medication instead of taking it.

Health authorities fear some patients may decide to sell the medication online or by other means to the highest bidder, instead of taking it themselves, Channel 12 reported.

Supplies will be limited, at least at first, so some people may test positive for the virus, but not qualify for Paxlovid, creating a black market demand for the drug.

“It’s only a matter of time until there is a black market here for the medicine,” a senior official told Channel 12. “The conditions are just perfect for it.”

The first shipment of Pfizer’s Paxlovid pills is seen being offloaded from a plane at Ben Gurion Airport, December 30, 2021. (Courtesy)

The warning came as the highly infectious Omicron variant continued to fuel a surge in infections.

Israel recorded over 8,900 new cases over the weekend, according to Health Ministry statistics. There were over 30,000 active cases as of Saturday night. The positive test rate was 3.95%.

Daily infections have jumped from a little over 500 per day a month ago, to over 4,000 in the past several days. Severe cases and hospitalizations have not yet seen a commensurate rise. On Saturday, there were 101 serious cases, including 42 people in critical condition.

There were two deaths in the past week, bringing the total since the start of the pandemic to 8,244.

The R-naught statistic, which measures how many people, on average, each infected person passes the virus to, was 1.76, meaning the virus was spreading rapidly. The Health Ministry bases the R-naught number on a 7-day rolling average, with the most up-to-date figure from 10 days ago. The rate of spread has been climbing steadily over the past month.

The largest increase in infections in the past month was in the 5-11 age group.

Hebrew University researchers said Saturday that the number of confirmed Omicron cases is expected to surpass 20,000 in the coming week, and continue to rise in mid-January. The wave of infections, and the number of people who do not have up-to-date vaccinations, are expected to place a heavy burden on the health care system, Walla news reported.

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