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B.C.'s stockpile of COVID treatments growing amid continued eligibility restrictions


B.C.’s stockpile of COVID-19 anti-viral treatments has ballooned even further in as guidelines continue to restrict access to the drug despite ample supply.

Last April, the Ministry of Health acknowledged that 30,000 rounds of Paxlovid treatments were warehoused with only 2,500 ever dispensed in the province.

In an update provided at CTV News’ request Tuesday, the ministry now says the federal government allocated 148,933 packages of Paxlovid in total last year, with just 18,263 patients getting the treatment. 

That means COVID-19 treatments for more than 130,000 British Columbians are warehoused at a time infections are spreading post-holiday and frustrated seniors and other vulnerable people are being denied access. The unvaccinated aged 50 or older, anyone self-identifying as Indigenous, those deemed “extremely clinically vulnerable,” and those 70 or older with three or more chronic conditions are eligible in this province.

In Ontario, however, pharmacists can now prescribe the anti-viral. As long as a patient isn’t taking clashing medications, anyone 60 and older, plus those at higher risk of COVID-19, can get it.


Complaints about being able to get the treatment, which must start within five days of symptoms and is designed to minimize the risk of serious illness and hospitalization, have persisted since the drug was approved a year ago.

That includes Anne Dobell and her husband, who fell seriously ill on Boxing Day and tested positive for COVID-19 three days later. They made a telehealth appointment with a doctor at a Whistler clinic to get a Paxlovid prescription.

“I explained that I am feeling very sick and that I'm 85 years old,” Dobell told CTV News in a Zoom interview. “We've stayed really healthy (in general) but this has really thrown me for a loop -- I can hardly walk up the stairs.”

She was stunned that the doctor told them they’re ineligible because they’re both fully vaccinated with boosters. Family doctors in B.C. say prescribing the drug involves complex form that requires nearly half an hour to complete, and an approval process much more stringent than a typical prescription simply handed to the patient.

“It’s very time consuming,” said Dr. Jennifer Lush, from her family practice in Victoria. “There's a very narrow population of people for whom we can prescribe Paxlovid in B.C. There are very strict criteria set by the BCCDC and we have to stick to those guidelines.”


Initially, supplies of Paxlovid were limited in Canada and provincial health officers had to prioritize who would have access to the medication, with a close eye on screening people who might be at risk due to other medications they may already be taking.

But the federal government announced in June that “The supply of nirmatrelvir/ritonavir is no longer limited,” raising questions as to why British Columbia didn’t revise its access policy accordingly, as Ontario did.

CTV News made several attempts to ask provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry about access to Paxlovid, but instead a Ministry of Health spokesperson sent a long response reiterating the policy.

They did not explain why we were not able to speak with Henry, nor why access continues to be much more limited for British Columbians than other Canadians, whose public health leaders have come to very different conclusions after considering the same clinical information. Top Stories

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