OTTAWA — The federal government has signed deals with Pfizer and Merck to buy their antiviral drugs, pending Health Canada’s approval of the products.

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Public Services and Procurement Minister Philomena Tasi said Ottawa has placed an initial order for one million of Pfizer’s antiviral pills and 500,000 for Merck’s pills, with options for 500,000 more.

Tasi made the announcement during a press conference on Friday.

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“As soon as these drugs are authorized for use, the government will work to get them to the provinces and territories as quickly as possible so that health care providers can help Canadians who need them most,” Tasi said.

“I will keep working to make sure we have the supplies Canada needs to finish the fight against COVID-19.”

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On Wednesday, Pfizer began rolling submissions of its drug Paxlovid to Health Canada, intended for use in mild to moderate COVID-19 cases in adults at risk of hospitalization or death.

Its trial enrolled non-hospitalized adults aged 18 and older.

The pill is designed to block the activity of an enzyme in SARS-CoV-2 that is needed for the virus to replicate itself, and to slow the breakdown of the pill’s ingredients, the drugmaker said in a press release. also helps. Help fight the virus for a long time. Part of the pill uses ritonavir, an existing drug that has previously been used in combination with other antiviral drugs.

Merck submitted its request for approval of its twice-daily drug mollupiravir in August. The antiviral agent is intended for use in people 18 years of age and older and is to be taken five days after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.

Merck’s study tracked 775 adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 who were considered at high risk for severe disease because of health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. Among patients taking molanupiravir, 7.3 percent were either hospitalized or died at the end of 30 days, compared with 14.1 percent of those receiving placebo.

Health Canada has already approved four COVID-19 treatments. They include: remdesivir, bamlanivimab, casirivimab and imdevimab combination, and sotrovimab.

Tasi said antivirals should be seen as a “complement” to vaccines.

“This is one more tool that we have available to fight this battle against COVID-19. This in no way takes away from the importance of making sure we get vaccinations, but it is an important tool because it prevents, for people who become infected with COVID-19, the effects And having effect,” said the minister.

Duclos further specified that after personal protective equipment, tests and vaccines, medical equipment is the government’s fourth device in the box.

He said that these treatments are not only beneficial at the patient level, but also to prevent excessive hospitalization.

Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma has said that approval will be given only after reviewing all the evidence.

With a file from Brooklyn Newsstar, Avis Favreau and Elizabeth St. Philip