Antiviral medicines for COVID-19 infection

There is a growing number of antiviral medicines for people in Aotearoa New Zealand who get COVID-19. Find out more about antiviral medicines used to treat early COVID-19 infection.

You may be eligible for an antiviral medicine if you have complex health needs, a long-term health condition or you're aged 75 years or older AND you: 

  • test positive for COVID-19, OR
  • have symptoms but your test result is negative AND you are a household contact of someone with COVID 19.

You can get antivirals by talking with your GP or pharmacist. They will advise if antivirals are suitable for you. 

 

On this page, you can find the following information:

What are antivirals?

Antivirals are medicines that reduce the amount of virus in your body that causes some infections such as COVID-19. They target specific parts of the virus to stop it from multiplying, helping to prevent severe illness. 

Antiviral medicines are best used in the first few days of COVID 19 infection in people who may be at risk of developing severe illness. They may help you get better faster and stay out of hospital.

Antivirals do not replace the need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination is the best way to help prevent COVID infection. 

Who should have antivirals for COVID-19 infection?

Antiviral medicines are best used in the first few days of COVID 19 infection in people who may be at risk of developing severe illness.

Most people will experience a mild illness and can safely manage their own symptoms and recovery at home. Antivirals are ONLY used to treat people who are at risk of severe illness with COVID-19. To qualify for antivirals, you need to:

  • have symptoms and have tested positive for COVID-19, or
  • have symptoms and are a household contact of a person with COVID-19 and
  • be at risk of more severe illness or hospital care.

For example, people who qualify for antivirals include those:

  • who are 75 years or older 
  • who have had a previous admission to ICU directly as a result of COVID-19 
  • with sickle cell disease 
  • with very weakened immune system, 
  • with Down syndrome 
  • with a combination of several risk factors such as:
    • Māori or Pasifika ethnicity
    • having complex health needs or disability
    • not having completed the full COVID-19 vaccine course yet.

Read more about COVID-19 antivirals access criteria.  

If you are unsure about whether you qualify for antivirals, talk to your GP or pharmacist about COVID-19 antiviral medicines as soon as possible. They will advise if antivirals are suitable for you. 

Which antivirals are available in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Antivirals available for people who get COVID-19 are Paxlovid tablets, molnupiravir capsules and remdesivir injection. 

Paxlovid tablets and molnupiravir capsules are taken 2 times a day for 5 days. They need to be taken within 5 days of the start of your COVID-19 symptoms. Read more about Paxlovid and molnupiravir.

Remdesivir injection is given by a slow injection into your vein (called an intravenous infusion) ONCE a day, usually for 3 days. It is only useful if started within 7 days of the start of your COVID -19 symptoms. You'll usually get the infusion at your local hospital or in a local health centre. Read more about remdesivir.

Which antiviral is right for me?

Antivirals differ in their side effects, interactions with other medicines and who they can be prescribed for. This means the type of medicine given to you will depend on any medical conditions you have, medicines you are taking and the possible side effects. Your GP, pharmacist or health care provider will decide which is best for you.

How to get antivirals for COVID-19 infection?

Antivirals work best if you start taking them as soon as possible after finding out you have COVID-19. They need to be started within the 5 days of your illness.

Keep rapid antigen tests at home

If you are at risk of severe illness with COVID-19 infection, make sure you have rapid antigen test (RAT) kits at home so you can get tested quickly if you have symptoms. It’s important to get tested as soon as possible, even if your symptoms are mild. Read more about rapid antigen tests. 

Report your test result 

It’s important to report your COVID-19 RAT result on your My Covid Record account mycovidrecord.nz or call 0800 222 478 and press option 3. 

If you test positive

Antivirals need to be started within 5 days of your symptoms starting. If you test positive for COVID-19 and you think you are eligible for antiviral treatment (see access criteria above), contact your GP. See below Do I need a prescription to get antivirals. You can also call the dedicated COVID-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 if you have any questions.

If you test negative 

If you have symptoms but your test result is negative, it’s important to retest every 24 hours until you have been well for 24 hours.

If you are at risk of severe illness with COVID-19 infection, call your GP, healthcare provider or Healthline on 0800 611 116 to get advice on what to do.

Do I need a prescription to get antivirals?

From 28 July 2022, you might be eligible to get Paxlovid or molnupiravir from some pharmacies without a prescription. The pharmacist will need to ask you questions to work out if you are eligible for antiviral medications. It will depend on several factors, including your age, ethnicity, other health conditions and vaccination status. See above: Who should have antivirals for COVID-19 infection? 

Click on the links below to find a pharmacy near you:

Important notes

  • Antivirals are not available from all pharmacies. Only pharmacists who have completed additional training can supply antivirals. 
  • When you have COVID-19, you must self-isolate for at least 7 days and cannot leave your home. So, if you have symptoms and test positive and think you are eligible for antivirals, phone your pharmacy. It's important that you do not go to the pharmacy yourself because you could infect others. 
  • Similarly, arrange to have your antivirals picked up and delivered by friends or whānau, or order online from a pharmacy.   

Advance prescription

If you are at risk of serious illness but do not have COVID-19 symptoms, you may be able to get a prescription from your doctor before you get COVID-19. This means the pharmacist will have the prescription ready to use if you become unwell. If you test positive, you can then arrange to have the medicine delivered by friends or whānau. Talk to your doctor to see if getting a prescription before you become unwell is right for you. 

Do I still need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 if I have taken antivirals?

Yes, antivirals do not replace the need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination is the best way to help prevent COVID infection and its potentially serious complications. You should still get vaccinated if you have had COVID-19 and taken an antiviral medicine, because you can get infected again. Talk to your GP, pharmacist or healthcare provider about the best timing for your vaccination.

References

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: COVID-19 Technical Advisory Team, Ministry of Health, NZ Last reviewed: 21 Jun 2022