Tocilizumab for COVID-19

Sounds like ‘TOE-si-LIZ-oo-mab’

Tocilizumab is used to treat people who are in hospital with COVID-19. Tocilizumab is also called Actemra.

What is tocilizumab?

Tocilizumab is used to treat people who are in hospital with severe COVID-19 infection and who meet certain criteria for its use. Tocilizumab is used to reduce inflammation in your lungs. It can also reduce the effects of an over-activated immune system that can occur in some people. It may help you get better sooner and reduce your risk of dying. Read about COVID-19 treatment while you are in hospital.

How is tocilizumab given?

Tocilizumab is given in hospital by a slow injection into your vein (called intravenous infusion), as a single dose over 1 hour. Your doctor will decide what dose is right for you, based on your body weight.

Tell your doctor

Before you are given tocilizumab, tell your doctor:

  • if you have hepatitis B
  • if you have any other conditions including tuberculosis, diverticulitis, stomach ulcers, diabetes, cancer, or raised blood pressure
  • if you have had previous allergic reactions to any medicine including over-the-counter and complementary medicines, eg, vitamins, minerals, herbal or naturopathic medicines that you are taking or have recently taken
  • if you think you are pregnant or are planning a pregnancy.

What are the side effects of tocilizumab for Covid-19?

Tocilizumab can cause side effects, although not everyone gets them.

Common side effects

These are usually mild and go away with time. Tell your doctor if these side effects cause you problems or don’t go away:

  • Feeling sick (nausea).
  • Indigestion.
  • Runny poo (diarrhoea).
  • Cough.
  • Blocked or runny nose.
  • Headache.

Rare, serious side effects

Your doctor will watch for these side effects by doing blood tests and monitoring:

  • infections, eg, in your sinuses or throat
  • problems with your liver
  • raised blood pressure
  • signs of an allergic reaction.

Did you know that you can report a side effect to a medicine to CARM (Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring)? Report a side effect to a product

References

  1. Use of tocilizumab in hospitalised patients with Covid-19 NSW Therapeutic Advisory Group Inc., Australia, 2021
  2. Clinical management of COVID-19 in hospitalised adults - including in pregnancy Ministry of Health, NZ, 2022
  3. Medicines and COVID-19 Christchurch Medicines Information Service, NZ, 2021
  4. Actemra Medsafe, NZ, 2021
  5. Pharmac funds tocilizumab to treat cases of COVID-19 Pharmac, NZ, 2021
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist. Reviewed By: Maya Patel, Pharmacist Last reviewed: 13 Nov 2021