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Medications for treating COVID-19

13-minute read

If you develop symptoms such as severe shortness of breath or chest pain, call triple zero (000) immediately. Tell the call handler and the paramedics on arrival if you have COVID-19.

While there is no cure for COVID-19, several medicines have been developed that are proving to be effective treatments for people with the illness. The following medications are not intended to be used as a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19.

What are COVID-19 treatments?

COVID-19 treatments help to stop someone from becoming very sick with COVID-19. Not everyone diagnosed with COVID-19 will need these treatments. They are of most benefit to people who are at greatest risk of severe disease or who are in hospital with severe disease.

There are 2 types of COVID-19 treatments available in Australia: antiviral and monoclonal antibody treatments.

  • Antiviral treatments help to stop a virus from infecting healthy cells that can make you sick.
  • Monoclonal antibody treatments work by attaching to the virus to block it from entering human cells. This helps fight the harmful virus off.

These treatments are available by prescription only.

COVID-19 treatments are not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19. You should get vaccinated against COVID-19 if you’re able to.

What oral COVID-19 antiviral medicines can people take at home?

People with COVID-19 who don’t need oxygen and are not in hospital may be eligible for either Lagevrio or Paxlovid if they meet certain criteria. Lagevrio and Paxlovid are oral COVID-19 antiviral medicines (taken by mouth) that help to stop the COVID-19 infection from becoming severe and making you very sick.

Lagevrio and Paxlovid can be prescribed by your doctor or nurse practitioner.

Learn about the side effects of Lagevrio and Paxlovid by downloading the consumer medicine information leaflets.

Who can have oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine?

You may be eligible for an oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine if you:

  • are 18 years and older, and
  • have COVID-19, and
  • are at higher risk of becoming very sick

How do I get oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine?

If you test positive to COVID-19 using either a PCR test or rapid antigen test (RAT), book a telehealth appointment with your doctor. They will advise whether you can have an oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine.

If your doctor recommends that you take an oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine, you will need a prescription. You need to start taking the medicine as soon as possible after symptoms of COVID-19 began (ideally within 5 days) to be effective.

Your doctor can send the pharmacist your prescription electronically so a friend or family member can collect the medication for you, or so it can be delivered to your home.

If you live in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia or Victoria, you can call the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 for an initial assessment of your eligibility for oral COVID-19 antiviral medication. The helpline will help connect you to a doctor for further assessment and a prescription.

If you cannot get an appointment with your doctor quickly, you can use the healthdirect Service Finder to search for a doctor. Or, you can make an appointment at a government-run GP respiratory clinic, where you can be seen by a doctor either in person or via telehealth.

How much does oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine cost?

Lagevrio and Paxlovid are listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). The PBS can lower the cost of medications, so they are more affordable for people.

If you are eligible for this medication, you may have to pay up to $42.50 for a script or $6.80 if you’re a concession card holder.

Can I access oral COVID-19 antiviral medicine if I do not have a Medicare card?

If you have tested positive for COVID-19 and have high risk factors for severe illness, but do not have a Medicare card, you should contact your doctor or a General Practice Respiratory Clinic for advice about treatment options.

General Practice (GP) respiratory clinics offer services for free to everyone, including to people who do not have a Medicare card.

People without a Medicare card may include those who are:

  • not an Australian permanent resident
  • not entitled to hold a valid Medicare card
  • temporary entrants or temporary visa holders
  • are from a country without a reciprocal healthcare arrangement with Australia
  • visitors in Australia from overseas or an international student

If you do not have a Medicare card, the cost for treatment will vary depending on your circumstances. Please talk to your doctor or the General Practice Respiratory Clinic about payment options.

If you are not a permanent resident, but have private health insurance or travel insurance, you should refer to your insurance policy in relation to COVID-19 treatment costs in Australia.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not have oral COVID-19 medicine. Instead, make sure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations.

These medicines can also affect how birth control works.

Talk to your healthcare provider about contraception and if you are planning a pregnancy, are pregnant or breastfeeding.

If you have severe kidney or liver disease, you should not have Paxlovid COVID-19 treatment. Talk to your doctor about alternative oral treatments.

Paxlovid must not be taken with several other commonly used medicines. The full list of medicines that must not be taken with Paxlovid are in the product information.

Doctors will need to carefully review an eligible person’s current medications and medical conditions to see if it is safe for them to take oral COVID-19 medicine.

What COVID-19 treatments can people with COVID-19 only have in a healthcare facility?

There are several COVID-19 treatments that people with COVID-19 may be eligible for if they are in a healthcare facility.

Antiviral treatments

Antiviral treatments stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 from replicating and causing more severe illness.

Remdesivir (VEKLURY)

Veklury is an antiviral drug that can reduce the recovery time for people with COVID-19 infection.

It has been provisionally approved for use in adults and adolescents with severe COVID-19 symptoms who have been hospitalised and are severely unwell.

Monoclonal antibody treatments

Monoclonal antibody treatments prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 from invading cells and causing more serious illness.

Sotrovimab (XEVUDY)

Xevudy is used to treat people 12 years and older with COVID-19 (who weigh at least 40 kilograms), who do not need oxygen but who are at increased risk of needing to be treated in hospital or death.

Xevudy is mostly recommended for older people who have one or more of these risk factors:

Xevudy has been shown to reduce hospitalisation or death by almost 80% in adults with mild to moderate COVID-19. The treatment must be given within 5 days from when symptoms began. Xevudy is given by intravenous infusion by a doctor or nurse in a healthcare facility so they can see if you have signs of an allergic reaction.

Casirivimab + Imdevimab (RONAPREVE)

Ronapreve is recommended for people aged 12 years and older who weigh at least 40 kilograms and are at high risk of developing severe COVID-19. It is not recommended for people who need supplemental oxygen to breathe.

Ronapreve is also approved for the prevention of COVID-19 in patients of the same age and weight as above who:

  • have been exposed to, or are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19
  • have a medical condition that means they are unlikely to be protected by vaccination
  • haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19

Ronapreve has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by up to 70% in patients with COVID-19.

Tocilizumab (ACTEMRA)

Actemra is approved as an intravenous treatment of COVID-19 in hospitalised adults aged 18 years and older who are receiving systemic corticosteroids and need supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation.

Actemra reduces inflammation, which helps to slow the effects of the virus. It has been shown to reduce the length of hospitalisation, being placed on mechanical ventilation and the risk of death for people with severe COVID-19.

Regdanvimab (REGKIRONA)

Regkirona is used to treat mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults. It is intended to prevent serious illness associated with COVID-19.

Regkirona is given by intravenous infusion by a doctor or nurse in a healthcare facility so they can see if you have signs of an allergic reaction.

Tixagevimab and cilgavimab (Evusheld)

Evusheld is a preventative treatment that stops the virus from entering the body’s cells and causing infection. It is given by intravenous infusion in a healthcare facility under the supervision of a healthcare professional. This is in case you have any side effects.

Evusheld is approved for use in people aged 12 years and older who weigh at least 40 kilograms. Evusheld is for the prevention of COVID-19 in people who are at risk of infection but have not been exposed to the virus. This is known as pre-exposure prevention of COVID-19. It is approved for people who:

  • have moderate-to-severe immunocompromise because of a medical condition or are currently receiving immunosuppressive medications or treatments that make it likely that they will not have an adequate immune response to COVID-19 vaccination
  • are unable to be vaccinated because of a history of severe adverse reaction to a COVID‐19 vaccine or COVID‐19 vaccine component

More COVID-19 medicines are undergoing clinical trials and the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s vigorous approval process. For up-to-date information, visit the TGA website.

Who is eligible for COVID-19 oral antivirals or other treatments?

The healthdirect COVID-19 Symptom and Antiviral Eligibility Checker will show if you may be eligible for oral antivirals or other treatments.

According to national health authorities, you may be eligible if:

  • you have mild or moderate COVID-19 confirmed with a PCR or RAT test (although, if you’re aged 70 years or older and asymptomatic, but you’ve confirmed that you have COVID-19 with a PCR test or RAT, you may still be eligible for treatment)
  • you do not need oxygen (note that some people may already be on home oxygen therapy for an existing underlying condition. If they don’t need to increase oxygen levels due to COVID-19, these people may be eligible for treatment)
  • it is within 7 days since symptoms began (some medicines ideally should be started within 5 days to be effective)

AND

  • you're immunosuppressed or not immunocompetent regardless of vaccination status
    OR
  • you're 70 years or older, with or without symptoms
    OR
  • you're 50 years or older — or, 30 years or older if you're an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person — and you have 2 or more of the risk factors listed below
    OR
  • you're 50 years or older — or, 30 years or older if you're an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person — and you have received less than 3 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine
    OR
  • you've received less than 3 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and have at least 1 of the risk factors listed below

The risk factors for severe illness include:

  • a body mass index (BMI) that’s 30 or greater
  • diabetes (type 1 or 2) requiring medication
  • some chronic conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, liver disease and lung disease
  • serious heart conditions
  • neurodevelopmental disorders
  • neurological conditions
  • medical-related technological dependence
  • active cancer
  • immunocompromising conditions or immunosuppressive therapy
  • living remotely with reduced access to higher-level healthcare
  • being pregnant

Which medicines are not approved for treating COVID-19?

While the TGA has approved several medicines for the treatment of COVID-19 in Australia, there are certain drugs for which there is not enough evidence to support their safe and effective use for preventing or treating COVID-19.

Ivermectin

Ivermectin is used to treat infections caused by parasites, such as mites and worms. In Australia, ivermectin has been approved for the treatment of roundworm infections, scabies and inflammatory rosacea.

Ivermectin isn’t approved for the treatment of COVID-19 in Australia — or in other developed countries. Its use by the public for COVID-19 is strongly discouraged by the National COVID Clinical Evidence Taskforce, the TGA, the World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration.

You should not buy any medicines — including ivermectin — from unverified websites since this can put you at serious risk of unpredictable or severe adverse reactions.

Hydroxychloroquine

Hydroxychloroquine is a medicine used to treat some autoimmune diseases, as well as to treat or prevent malaria.

Australian Government health authorities strongly advise against using hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 in Australia. Many clinical trials of this medicine have shown no evidence of its usefulness in treating COVID-19. It may even be dangerous for COVID-19 patients.

Will I need antibiotics for COVID-19?

No, because antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Antibiotics are designed to treat bacterial infections. Unnecessary administration of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, which is a serious healthcare problem that affects everyone.

Some people may develop secondary bacterial infections due to the COVID-19 virus, such as bacterial pneumonia. In this situation antibiotics may be needed.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022


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