COVID-19 prevention drug coming for immunocompromised New Brunswickers

A drug that could prevent immunocompromised people from developing COVID-19 will soon be available in New Brunswick.

Evusheld was approved last month by Health Canada for people aged 12 or older who are immunocompromised and unlikely to mount an adequate immune response to COVID-19 vaccination, or for whom COVID-19 vaccination is not recommended.

The antibody treatment, developed by AstraZeneca, is administered through two injections before people become infected or have had a known recent exposure to the virus.

“The introduction of this treatment is good news for some specific situations,” Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane said in an emailed statement.

“This medication may be part of a treatment plan prescribed by physicians after a clinical assessment to a limited number of individuals.”

Unlike Paxlovid, the other COVID-19 medication currently available in New Brunswick, Evusheld is not authorized to treat COVID-19.

Evusheld is not a substitute for COVID-19 vaccination for those who are eligible either.

But for people with weakened immune systems, such as cancer, transplant or dialysis patients, those with autoimmune conditions or taking immunosuppressive medications, vaccines alone may not offer sufficient protection against COVID-19, the president of AstraZeneca Canada has said.

“The key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic is protecting as many people as possible against infection, including those who may need an additional layer of protection to prevent COVID-19 than vaccines alone can provide,” said Kiersten Combs. The approval of Evusheld, she said, is “an important step along this journey.”

Evusheld is not currently authorized to treat COVID-19 infection or to prevent infection in people who have been recently exposed to the virus. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

New Brunswick recorded 15 more COVID-19 deaths in its weekly report Tuesday.

Hospitalizations because of the virus dropped by six, to 81, including 10 people in intensive care, according to the province. The regional health authorities, meanwhile, report there are a total of 123 people with COVID-19 being treated in hospital, 13 of whom require intensive care.

The number of new cases of COVID-19 dropped to 2,534, but that’s based in part on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) results, and about 2,000 fewer tests were performed April 24-30.

Limited supply

Clinical trials found Evusheld cut the risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19 by 77 per cent and the protection lasted for at least six months.

“We are expecting that the supply of this medication will be very limited in our province over the next few months while the federal government works to secure larger quantities,” Macfarlane said.

In February, AstraZeneca announced it had struck a deal with the federal government to supply 100,000 doses of Evusheld to be delivered in 2022, pending its approval in Canada.

While vaccines rely on a person’s natural immune system to develop targeted antibodies and infection-fighting cells, Evusheld contains the lab-made antibodies tixagevimab and cilgavimab, which are designed to linger in the body for months to contain the virus in case of an infection.

Common side effects, expected in one in 10 people, may include a rash or hives, or injection site reaction, such as pain, redness, itching and swelling.

Uncommon side effects, expected in one in 100 people, may include headache, chills, and redness, discomfort or soreness near the injection site.

There isn’t enough data yet to be sure Evusheld is safe for use by those pregnant or breastfeeding. Health Canada recommends those individuals discuss the potential benefits and risks with a health-care provider.

“The best defence against Omicron is vaccination and we urge everyone to ensure they get their booster dose as soon as possible,” said Macfarlane.

A total of 52 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers are now boosted after 885 more people received their COVID-19 booster shot, Public Health reported Tuesday, up from 51.9 per cent a week ago.

A total of 87.9 per cent have received two doses, up from 87.8 per cent (233 more people), and 93.1 per cent have received their first dose, unchanged again (146 more people).

Evusheld is expected to “retain neutralizing activity against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is now the dominant variant in many communities in Canada,” Health Canada has said.

As one of the conditions of authorization, AstraZeneca must continue to provide Health Canada with information on the safety and efficacy of Evusheld, including protection against current and emerging variants of concern, as soon as it’s available.

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