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.

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?

Antivirals are ONLY used to treat people who are at risk of severe illness with COVID-19. 

Most people will experience a mild illness and can safely manage their own symptoms and recovery at home.

Antivirals are prescribed to people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, have symptoms, are at risk of severe illness and are more likely to need hospital care due to underlying risks. This includes people with:

  • sickle cell disease
  • very weakened immune systems
  • Down syndrome
  • a combination of several risk factors such as:
    • being older
    • being of Māori or Pacific 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 test positive for COVID-19 and have other health issues or long-term conditions, talk to your GP, pharmacist, or health care provider 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. Ideally this is 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, pharmacists 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 5 days of first noticing you are sick.

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. 
By recording your test result, you can be contacted about possible treatment if your result is positive.

If you test positive

If you're eligible for treatment and you test positive for COVID-19, antivirals need to be started within 5 days of your symptoms starting.  

  • If you are known to have other health conditions that mean you are at increased risk of severe illness (or you have noted this on the online self-assessment form or contact tracing call), you will usually be contacted by a doctor within 48 hours of your result.
  • You will be given more information and asked questions to check if antiviral treatment is right for you.
  • You may be asked what other medicines you are taking, including any vitamins and minerals, so it’s important to have a list of these ready.
  • Antiviral medicines for COVID-19 are free to you. You will never be asked for your bank account, card details, or asked to pay.

If you think you may be eligible for COVID-19 treatment but have not been contacted within 24 hours of your positive test, call your GP surgery or specialist, or call 0800 222 478. 

What to do if you are at risk of severe illness and have a negative test result

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 also a household contact of someone who has COVID 19, or have been in close contact with someone who has recently tested COVID 19 positive, then call your GP or healthcare provider to discuss.   

If your symptoms are worsening, call your GP, healthcare provider or Healthline on 0800 611 116 to get advice on what to do.

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