China’s elite gives Paxlovid to friends as demand for Covid drug rises

China's elite gives Paxlovid to friends as demand for Covid drug rises
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China’s elite is stockpiling Pfizer’s stock of Paxlovid, the Covid-19 antiviral drug, and scattering it to win the favor of business partners as an unprecedented wave of Covid-19 ravages the country, depriving hospitals of their resources and ordinary people struggling for access to the drug.

Numerous public and private hospitals told the Financial Times that the drug, which is widely available in the west, is either out of stock or only available for patients with serious underlying health conditions. Paxlovid is usually prescribed to treat mild to moderate cases of Covid.

Doctors said authorities and business owners were buying substantial amounts of pills at exorbitant prices to protect their elderly parents, family or friends. According to analysts, the scramble has increased demand for Paxlovid, making it the embodiment of the country’s health inequalities.

“Access to Paxlovid should not be determined by people’s power or wealth,” said Jin Dongyan, a virologist at the University of Hong Kong. “This is a life-saving drug and should be available to anyone who needs it.”

China battling worst coronavirus outbreak since abruptly abandon one’s strategy hard lockdowns, quarantines and batch testing. Chinese officials estimate that 250 million people were infected in 20 days as the virus spread to the most populated areas, including Beijing, Shanghai and southern Guangdong province.

However, authorities have been slow to make Paxlovid, the only foreign Covid drug approved for use in China, available to citizens. Beijing did not approve any Foreign Covid vaccines using advanced messenger RNA technology are leaving its population dependent on less effective domestic vaccines.

Covid-19 patients lay in a hospital in Chongqing, southwest China, on Friday

Covid-19 patients on Friday at a hospital in Chongqing, southwest China. Hospitals and clinics across the country flooded with patients © Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images

Chinese The first batch of 21,200 boxes imported Paxlovid in March, during a major outbreak in Shanghai. But shipments have been minimal as the country imports only a few hundred thousand boxes and is far below demand, according to a Beijing-based government adviser, who said officials feared putting Paxlovid’s local competitors at a disadvantage.

“We don’t want to rely on another country for anti-Covid drugs,” the consultant said. “We need to create market space for domestic drugs.”

Beijing in recent months Lianhua heavily promoted QingwenA traditional herbal medicine containing honeysuckle, licorice root and forsythia and Azvudin, a household antiviral, as effective treatments despite the lack of clinical data.

Beijing reported Monday that it will supply limited quantities of Paxlovid for elderly patients to the city’s state community clinics. The move suggested the drug could be available in more major cities in the coming weeks.

But multiple public hospitals in Beijing and Shanghai, where Paxlovid is covered by state-sponsored health insurance, said the pill would be reserved for patients with critical underlying conditions.

“Our Paxlovid serves patients with end-stage cancer and kidney failure, and there are many of them,” said a doctor from the state-funded Beijing Union Medical College Hospital. “We have nothing left for patients who are less sick.”

At some top private hospitals, Paxlovid is available for patients with deep pockets for up to Rmb 8,300 ($1,200) per box – compared to the $530 US government agreed to pay per five-dose course of medication in April. An official from Oasis International Hospital in Beijing said its inventory of 300 boxes was exhausted within 24 hours this month.

He added that there is no timetable for the next shipment.

The rest of the country, especially the under-equipped rural areas, have even more dim prospects of acquiring the drug, given low import volumes. And lately study A company co-funded by the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention has found that to effectively reduce estimated Covid-related deaths, the country must provide antiviral drugs such as Paxlovid to 160 million elderly people with underlying health problems. as high as 1 minute.

Limited supply has made Paxlovid a popular gift among well-connected people in China. An official at a distribution hospital in Beijing said a “significant” portion of prescribed pills were purchased by healthy people.

“He is more envied than Moutai,” said one official. premium chinese liquor brand This is one of China’s preferred business gifts.

A Beijing business owner said he received a gift of two boxes of Paxlovid this month from a friend who purchased the drug from a hospital division serving senior officials.

But he decided not to. “I’ll give it as a gift to someone else who needs the medicine,” she said.

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