The Ontario government is giving people more convenient access to care by allowing pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid, an antiviral treatment option used to reduce severe outcomes from COVID-19. All Ontarians are strongly encouraged to keep up to date with vaccinations, which remains the best way for people to stay healthy this flu and respiratory illness season and prevent unnecessary visits to the hospital.
Starting December 12, 2022, pharmacists will be able to prescribe Paxlovid to eligible individuals in-person or virtually (such as by telephone) at no cost. Eligible individuals should contact their local pharmacy to confirm if they prescribe Paxlovid and how to get a prescription for Paxlovid.
Eligibility for Paxlovid includes:
- Symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19;
- A positive lab-based PCR, rapid molecular, or rapid antigen test (including rapid tests done at home);
- The prescribing occurs within five days of symptom onset;
- The individual receiving the prescription is;
- 60 years of age or older
- 18 years of age or older and is immunocompromised
- 18 to 59 years old and at a higher risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes including having chronic medical conditions (such as diabetes, heart or lung disease) or inadequate immunity against COVID-19 (i.e., not up-to-date on vaccines).
“In addition to getting your COVID-19 booster and flu shot, Ontarians are now able to also talk to their local pharmacist about a prescription for Paxlovid,” said Sylvia Jones, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health. “This expansion of pharmacists’ scope of practice is just one more way our government is making it easier for Ontarians to access health care right in their own communities.”
Paxlovid prescriptions also remain available through any physician or nurse practitioner in Ontario as well as clinical assessment centres across the province. Individuals with complex health conditions may need to see their primary care provider or go to a clinical assessment centre for Paxlovid, based on the clinical judgement of the pharmacist.
“Authorizing pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid will expand access and offer increased protection to the most vulnerable and mitigate pressures on the province’s hospital capacity,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Chief Medical Officer of Health. “I continue to strongly recommend that everyone across the province stays up to date on their vaccinations as it is the most effective way we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from the most serious effects of COVID-19.”
Carleton MPP Goldie Ghamari said the announcement is a game-changer for residents of her riding who live in rural villages and surrounding areas.
“For the residents of the Carleton riding who qualify, this announcement will make Paxlovid as a treatment for COVID possible for some who may not otherwise be able to access it,” Ghamari said. “For Paxlovid or any other treatment, time is always a factor. Sometimes for rural residents, things like getting a doctor’s appointment for a prescription or getting into the city to a clinic may not be able to happen instantly. This announcement gives our residents more options to be treated in a timely manner.”
With COVID-19 vaccines and free flu shots available to everyone six months and older and bivalent booster doses also available to those 12 and over, Ontarians are strongly encouraged to get both their flu and COVID-19 shots as soon as possible this respiratory illness season to help restore protection that may have decreased since their last dose.
“Shoppers Drug Mart welcomes the expansion of the scope of practice for pharmacists to prescribe COVID-19 treatments like Paxlovid to patients. With over 800 locations across the province, we stand ready to support this initiative to make it easier for Ontarians to receive this treatment right in their local communities,” said Jeff Leger, President of Shoppers Drug Mart.
“We welcome the announcement from Ontario Minister of Health Sylvia Jones today that pharmacists can start prescribing Paxlovid to treat vulnerable Ontarians with COVID-19 infection. Our Rexall pharmacists are enthusiastic to continue the important delivery of accessible health care to Ontarians during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mona Sabharwal, Senior Vice President Pharmacy Services, Rexall.
According to the province, individuals who are part of higher risk groups and who have COVID-19 symptoms should immediately seek testing and care by contacting their health care provider, visiting a clinical assessment centre, calling Health Connect Ontario at 811 or 1-866-797-0007 (toll-free TTY), or contacting a local pharmacist.
Individuals can access Ontario’s antiviral screener tool to help determine if they are at higher risk and should be assessed for treatment. A positive rapid antigen test, PCR or rapid molecular test is required as part of the assessment for antiviral treatment. Rapid antigen tests will remain available for pick up at no charge until June 30, 2023, from over 3,000 retail locations in the province. PCR tests are available at any provincial testing location to eligible groups.
“We are thrilled with the Government’s announcement to expand Ontarians’ timely access to effective COVID-19 antiviral therapy by enabling pharmacists to assess for and prescribe Paxlovid to eligible patients,” said Sandra Hanna, CEO of the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada. “This will both remove barriers to accessing care and support the overall healthcare system by preventing hospitalizations and reducing burden on other providers. The Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada has long advocated for pharmacy’s ability to safely and conveniently provide patients with access to this critical medication in their own communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven how pharmacies across Ontario can rapidly scale up these services, and we applaud the Ontario government’s investment in another vital tool in the public health toolbox to help Ontarians get back to a new normal.”
Clinical assessment centres continue to be available to assess patients with cough, cold, flu and COVID-19 symptoms as well as to test, prescribe and dispense antivirals for COVID-19.