Ngā rongoā patu huaketo mō te KOWHEORI-19 COVID-19 antiviral medicine

COVID-19 antiviral medicine can help you if you are at risk of becoming very sick with COVID-19. Find out about antivirals, who is eligible to get them, and how to get them.

Who can get COVID-19 antiviral medicine

Some people with a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 are eligible for treatment with COVID-19 antiviral medicines to reduce the amount of virus in your body so you do not get as sick, and you are less likely to go to hospital.

You can get free antiviral medicine if all of these apply. You:

  • have COVID-19 and symptoms, or you are a household contact with symptoms
  • became sick within the last 5 days.

And you have one or more risk factors for becoming very sick from COVID-19 from the list below:

  • you are a Māori or Pacific person aged 50 or over
  • you are aged 50 or over, and have not had at least 2 COVID-19 vaccines
  • you are aged 65 or over
  • you have Down syndrome
  • you have sickle cell disease
  • you have previously been in critical or high dependency hospital care from COVID-19
  • you receive Disability Support Services funded by Whaikaha – Ministry of Disabled People (previously Ministry of Health) or need direct family, whānau or external disability care most days
  • you have frailty or vulnerability due to one or more severe health conditions
  • you have a weakened immune system
  • you have 3 or more of the risk factors or medical conditions listed below.

Talk to your doctor, healthcare provider, pharmacist, or hauora provider if you think that you, or a member of your whānau, may be eligible for antiviral medicine.

You can get a prescription for antivirals from your doctor, healthcare provider, or hauora provider. Some pharmacies can supply antivirals without a prescription. 

Pharmacies where you do not need a prescription — Healthpoint

  • High-risk medical conditions

    If you have 3 or more of these conditions you are eligible for free antiviral medicine, even if you do not fit into the other eligible groups:

    • chronic lung or airways disease
    • serious heart conditions such as congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, rheumatic heart disease, and congenital heart disease
    • poorly controlled hypertension
    • chronic neurological or neuromuscular disease
    • diabetes
    • chronic kidney disease
    • severe liver disease such as cirrhosis
    • severe blood (haematological) disorders
    • severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depressive disorder, bipolar or schizoaffective disorder
    • active cancer
    • morbid obesity (BMI greater than 35).
  • If you are a visitor to New Zealand

    Aotearoa New Zealand has reciprocal health agreements with Australia and the United Kingdom (UK). This means that citizens and permanent residents of Australia and UK citizens can get the same publicly funded healthcare as New Zealanders. This includes free COVID-19 antiviral medicine for eligible people.

    Reciprocal health agreements and what they cover Health New Zealand

    We encourage overseas visitors to get travel insurance and check it covers them for COVID-19 treatment.

    Rapid antigen tests (RATs) are the recommended method to test for COVID-19. They are free for everyone in Aotearoa, including visitors.

    If you are a visitor to Aotearoa, and your RAT shows a positive result, you will need to have a PCR test. PCR testing is free, but you may need to pay for your healthcare consultation, just as you would for other non-COVID consultations.

If you are not eligible for free COVID-19 antiviral medicine

If you are not eligible for free antivirals, contact your healthcare provider to discuss options.

When to take COVID-19 antiviral medicine

You must start taking COVID-19 antiviral medicine within the first 5 days of feeling sick with COVID-19.

The evidence is clear that the sooner you start the medicine, the better the protection. Antivirals do not reduce risks if you start after day 5.

Antivirals are not used to treat long COVID.

How to get COVID-19 antiviral medicine

If you test positive for COVID-19, or are a household contact, talk to your usual doctor, healthcare provider, pharmacist or hauora provider to see if you are eligible for COVID-19 antiviral medicine.

Getting COVID-19 antiviral medicine from a pharmacy

Many pharmacies will also be able to supply COVID-19 antivirals without a prescription if you test positive for COVID-19, or are a household contact, and you meet the other eligibility criteria for COVID-19.

If you are eligible for free antiviral medicine, the pharmacist will check to make sure the medicine is right for you, and tell you what you need to know about taking these safely.

They will ask you about:

  • your current health
  • your health history
  • any other medicines or treatments you take or have been taking, including rongoā rākau (plant remedies)
  • whether you might be pregnant. 

If your local pharmacy does not have COVID-19 antiviral medicine, they can tell you the nearest pharmacy that does. You can also check the Healthpoint website.

Pharmacies where you do not need a prescription — Healthpoint (external link)

You will need a prescription to get antiviral medicine at these pharmacies:

Pharmacies where you need a prescription — Healthpoint (external link)

Getting a prescription before you get sick

If you are at risk of serious illness, but do not have COVID-19 symptoms, you may be able to get a prescription before you get COVID-19. This means the pharmacy will have the prescription ready to use if you become unwell.

If you test positive, you can then arrange to have the antiviral medicine delivered by your friends, whānau or the pharmacy.

Your doctor, healthcare provider, nurse or pharmacist will confirm that it is still safe for you to take COVID-19 antiviral medicine when you test positive for COVID-19.

Talk to your doctor, healthcare provider, pharmacist or hauora provider if you think that you, or a member of your whānau may be eligible for antiviral medicine. You can also ask if getting a prescription before you get unwell is right for you.

How to get COVID-19 antiviral medicines if you are isolating

If you have COVID-19, we recommend you isolate for 5 days, even if you only have mild symptoms.

If you are eligible for antiviral medicine, arrange to have them delivered by friends, whānau or by other means. Some pharmacies can deliver the medicine.

Which COVID-19 antiviral medicines are available for eligible people

COVID-19 antiviral medicine is available to treat early COVID-19 at home. These include:

  • ritonavir with nirmatrelvir (branded as Paxlovid).

Paxlovid is recommended for people who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. When taken within the first 5 days of your COVID-19 illness, Paxlovid can help you stay out of hospital.

Paxlovid

Paxlovid is 2 medicines (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) that you take together. They reduce the amount of virus in your body. You take Paxlovid tablets for 5 days.

Your healthcare provider will speak with you to see whether or not you can safely take Paxlovid. 

Visit the Healthify website for information about Paxlovid including how to take it and what to think about before you take it.

Paxlovid — Healthify (external link)

Return of symptoms following Paxlovid treatment

For some people, symptoms may return after completing a course of Paxlovid. This is known as Paxlovid rebound.

People experiencing Paxlovid rebound do not appear to get severely ill. Symptoms are usually mild to moderate and typically resolve within 3 days.

It is normal for some people recovering from COVID-19 to have symptoms that come and go for some time, regardless of whether they have taken antiviral medicines.

You should stay home and recover until 24 hours after you no longer have symptoms if:

  • your symptoms return after finishing the 5-day course of Paxlovid, and
  • it is 28 days or less since you first got symptoms or tested positive.

There is no need to take another course of Paxlovid if your symptoms return during this time.

Side effects of COVID-19 antiviral medicines

Like all medicines, Paxlovid can cause side effects, but not everyone will get them.

Side effects are usually mild and temporary. They should pass after you finish the medicine.

  • Reported side effects of Paxlovid

    The most common side effects of Paxlovid include:

    • changes to your sense of taste
    • a metallic or unpleasant taste in your mouth
    • feeling sick (nausea)
    • being sick (vomiting)
    • headache
    • runny poos (diarrhoea).

    Some people experience:

    • aching muscles
    • muscle tenderness or weakness
    • tummy ache (abdominal pain).
  • Reported side effects of Molnupiravir

    The most common side effects of Molnupiravir include:

    • feeling sick (nausea)
    • runny poos (diarrhoea)
    • dizziness
    • headache.

Report your side effects

You can report side effects online.

Report a side effect to a product Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring (external link)

Allergic reactions to antiviral medicines

Serious allergic reactions are rare. Tell your healthcare provider about any allergies you have.

Signs of an allergic reaction include:

  • skin rash
  • puffiness or swelling of the eyelids or around the eyes, face, lips, or tongue
  • chest tightness and trouble breathing.

Call 111 immediately if you have swelling or trouble breathing.

If you have any other signs of an allergic reaction, call your healthcare provider or Healthline on 0800 611 116

Medicines given in hospital

Some other medicines are available to treat COVID-19 but are only given in hospital.

You can find information about these medicines on the Healthify website. 

COVID-19 treatment while you are in hospital — Healthify (external link)

More information about COVID-19 antiviral medicines

Pharmac

Pharmac, the agency which decides what medicines are available in New Zealand, has more information on its website.

New Zealand’s COVID-19 treatments portfolio — Pharmac (external link)

Healthify

Healthify has more information on COVID-19 and medicines on their website.

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