Israel received Thursday the first shipment of Pfizer’s anti-Covid pill, with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hailing it as critical amid a surge of cases driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant.
“Thanks to our rapid action, the drugs have arrived in Israel quickly and will assist us in getting past the peak of the coming Omicron wave,” Bennett said.
The US Food and Drug Administration last week authorised Pfizer’s Paxlovid pill for high-risk people aged 12 and up.
In trials, the treatment has been shown to reduce Covid hospitalisations and deaths by 88 percent among at-risk people.
The pills landed in Israel as coronavirus infections are surging.
Health authorities reported nearly 4,000 new cases Wednesday, a high not seen since September.
The oral treatments block the virus’ ability to replicate and should withstand variants, experts say.
Until now, the main treatments for Covid have been synthetic antibodies or Gilead’s antiviral remdesivir, which are administered by infusion.
The United States has paid $5.3 billion for 10 million courses of Pfizer’s new treatment, as well as $2.2 billion for treatment from rival Merck, whose pill appears to be less effective.
The European Union’s drug regulator has also allowed member states to use Pfizer’s Covid medications ahead of formal approval as an emergency measure.
Ran Balicer, chairman of Israel’s national expert panel on Covid-19, said the drug could “dramatically reduce risk of severe illness, potentially thus also reducing the overall hospital burden”.
He said the medications were “a critical element” in mitigating Omicron “in addition to vaccines and masks.”
On Monday an Israeli hospital began a trial of a fourth vaccine booster shot ahead of a potential national rollout of additional doses.
Some 4.2 million Israelis out of a population of 9.4 citizens have gotten three shots of coronavirus vaccine.