Antiviral medicines for COVID-19 infection

COVID-19 antivirals are medicines used to treat COVID-19 infection. They may help you become less sick and stay out of hospital. Find out more about COVID-19 antiviral medicines and who is eligible to get them.

On this page, you can find the following information:

What are COVID-19 antivirals?

COVID-19 antivirals are medicines used to treat COVID-19 infection. They reduce the amount of virus in your body and may help you become less sick and stay out of hospital.

The main COVID-19 antiviral medicines available in Aotearoa New Zealand include:

  • Paxlovid tablets (nirmatrelvir with ritonavir)
  • Lageviro capsules (molnupiravir).

To be effective, these antiviral medicines must be started within 5 days of your symptoms starting.

Note: Remdesivir injection is also available. It is only useful if started within 7 days of the start of your COVID-19 symptoms. You'll usually get the injection at your local hospital or in a local health centre. Read more about remdesivir.

Who can get COVID-19 antiviral medicines?

Antiviral medicines are best used in the first few days of COVID-19 infection for people at risk of getting very sick with COVID-19.

Most people who have COVID-19 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. 

You can get COVID-19 antiviral medicines if ALL of these apply
  1. You test positive for COVID-19, or you're a household contact of someone with COVID-19, and
  2. You got sick within the last 5 days, and
  3. You are eligible for the medicine.

See below for more information.

1. You must have COVID-19 or be a household contact of someone with COVID-19, to get free antiviral medicines. Because there are illnesses with similar symptoms to COVID-19, it is important to have a positive COVID-19 test result. These medicines are only suitable if you have COVID-19. 

2. Your symptoms must be recent (starting in the last 5 days) to qualify for the antiviral medicines Paxlovid or molnupiravir (Lagevrio®)

3. Eligible people include:

  • Māori or Pasifika aged 50 years or older
  • everyone aged 65 years and older
  • anyone aged 50 years or older who has had fewer than 2 COVID-19 vaccinations.

You are also eligible for these medicines if you have 1 of the following:

Read more about eligibility for COVID-19 antiviral medicines.

If you're not sure if you qualify for antivirals, talk to your GP, nurse, hauora provider or pharmacist about COVID-19 antiviral medicines. They will advise you.

Please note: Even if you meet the eligibility criteria above, these medicines may not be suitable for you.

Which antiviral is right for me?

The antivirals Paxlovid and Lageviro differ in their side effects, interactions with other medicines and who they can be prescribed for. This means the type of medicine that is best for you will depend on:

  • any medical conditions you have
  • other medicines you are taking, including rongoā rākau (plant remedies) and herbal medicines
  • the possible side effects of the antiviral medicine.

Your healthcare provider or pharmacist will work through the options to decide which is best for you. 

How to get antivirals for COVID-19 infection

There are 2 ways to get antivirals:

  • Ask your doctor or nurse practitioner for a prescription.
  • Ask your pharmacist. Many pharmacies can give you antiviral medicines without a prescription, after a health check by phone. 

Do I need a prescription to get antivirals?

You may not need a prescription as some pharmacies can give free COVID-19 antiviral medicines without a prescription to people who are eligible. Check which pharmacies give COVID-19 antiviral medicines on the Healthpoint website, or call your local pharmacy. If your local pharmacy does not provide these medicines, they can tell you the nearest pharmacy that does.

Pharmacy health checks

The pharmacy will do a health check (which can be done over the phone) to see if you are eligible, and to see if the free antiviral is right for you. They need the following information to decide if COVID-19 antiviral medicines are safe for you to take:

  • Your current health status.
  • Your health history.
  • Any other medicines or treatments you are or have been taking, including rongoā rākau (plant remedies) and herbal medicines.
  • Whether you might be pregnant.

If you are eligible, the pharmacist will tell you what you need to know about taking antiviral medicines safely.

You do not need to leave home to get antivirals
If you have COVID-19, you must self-isolate. Call the pharmacy – don't visit in person. Someone can pick up your medicine for you, or the pharmacy can have it delivered for free, even if you are rural or live in a remote area.

You may be eligible to get a prescription for free COVID-19 antiviral medicines before you get sick

If you are at risk of serious illness but don't 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.

Keep rapid antigen test (RAT) kits on hand. If you are at risk of getting very sick with COVID-19, make sure you have RAT kits at home, so you can test yourself as soon as you start to feel sick.

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. Your pharmacist will still need to check your current health and health history to make sure the medicine is suitable.

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

Yes, antivirals don't replace the need to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination is the best way to help prevent you from becoming very unwell from 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. You can talk to your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or some hauora providers about the best timing for your vaccination.

Learn more

Rongoā whakanoa antiviral medicine Karawhiua, NZ
COVID-19 Antivirals – Braille, Easy Read, large print and audio, and New Zealand Sign Language Unite Against COVID-19

References

Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 19 Oct 2022