Will an aspirin do?Following the scrapping of the vaccine pass system on Tuesday, the Moon Jae-in administration is mulling the idea of easing social distancing rules for restaurants and cafes, which restrict private gatherings of people to six and must close by 10 p.m. After the opening of elementary, middle and high schools from Wednesday, the number of infections with the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is expected to go up from 219,241 yesterday.
As the total number of positive cases approaches 3.5 million, the most effective weapon against the virus is a sufficient supply of medicine to treat patients in the early stages of infection to minimize deaths from Covid-19. (The full vaccination rate has already reached 87.4 percent in Korea). And yet, Paxrovid, an oral Covid-19 treatment, is in short supply, as frequently pointed out by medical institutions. Remdesivir is also lacking. If patients take Paxrobid pills within five days after infection, it can reduce possible deaths by as high as 85 percent.
But a growing number of patients cannot get medicines. For instance, two patients in their 60s and 70s died as they could not get a prescription for Paxrobid while staying at a university hospital. They died because public health authorities excluded patients at university hospitals from a list of people eligible for the prescription. Instead, only patients under home treatment or those staying at hospitals designated for the treatment of infectious diseases can get prescriptions for Paxrobid.
A critical dearth of Paxrovid is evident across the country. Earlier, the government made a contract with Pfizer to get Paxrobid for 762,000 people, but only enough for 73,000 people arrived in Korea by February 27. That drop in the bucket was delivered to only 600 pharmacies.
The number of patients under home treatment surpassed 820,000 on Wednesday. But the prescription and delivery of Paxrobid to medical clinics and hospitals in the neighborhood are not fast enough to save the lives of patients. As a result, they have to rely on fever reducers.
Medical professionals urge the government to bring in drugs as fast as it can. They also demand the government allow all medical institutions, including general hospitals, to prescribe Paxrobid and expand the scope of patients eligible for the pill to all people above the age of 12.
Doctors also suggested the idea of prescribing Paxrobid in the initial stages if patients are infected with the virus while staying at the hospital for other diseases. Public health authorities must listen to their advice.