BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – Molnupiravir, a new antiviral drug to treat COVID-19, will not be rolled out to all hospitals or health centres as not all individuals are eligible to take the medicine, the deputy permanent secretary of health said Friday.
Speaking at the COVID press briefing, Dr Ang Swee Hui said the oral antiviral pills will only be administered to patients who have been identified as high risk in developing severe disease.
He said a team of medical specialists will prescribe the medicine to patients who meet the eligibility criteria, including those who are unvaccinated, the elderly, immunocompromised persons and individuals with chronic diseases.
Brunei received 5,040 packs of molnupiravir on Thursday night, out of 25,000 packs ordered from US pharmaceutical company Merck.
Dr Ang added that the antiviral pills would be used to treat mild to moderate symptoms and are not suitable for hospitalised COVID patients.
“It’s for those who are not hospitalised yet, but at high risk of hospitalisation or admitted to the ICU. The selection of patients has to be correct to provide the most [effective treatment] to the patient,” he said.
Under the World Health Organization’s guidelines, molnupiravir should be given within five days of symptom onset and taken for five days to prevent hospitalisation.
Children and pregnant women will not be able to take the drug, but breastfeeding mothers who meet the selection criteria are allowed to use the medicine provided that they temporarily stop breastfeeding.
Molnupiravir prevents the replication of the virus to keep the viral load low and reduce the severity of COVID.
Use of the antiviral drug had minimised the likelihood of COVID hospitalisation by 65 percent, according to a recent study from Indian researchers.
Unvaccinated 13.7 times more likely to develop severe illness from COVID
Unvaccinated adults in Brunei are 13.7 times more likely to develop severe disease from COVID than those who have received three vaccine doses, data from the ministry of health showed.
For every 10,000 people who are unvaccinated against the coronavirus, 72.5 people will require oxygen supplementation or artificial ventilation after contracting COVID.
In contrast, 5.7 of 10,000 people who have received a booster jab will experience severe COVID symptoms.
To date, 59.4 percent of the population has been given a booster shot, while over 94 percent is double-vaccinated.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) said the number of severe coronavirus cases remained low despite record high infections in the Omicron-fuelled third wave, with 0.05 percent of cases in categories 4 or 5.
“In this third wave, 108 cases were hospitalised in categories 4 or 5, of which 60 were due to COVID-19 infection,” MoH said, adding that the remaining severe COVID cases were admitted for other health conditions.
No COVID patients required a heart-lung machine in the third wave.
After 10 straight weeks of increasing case count, Brunei saw a declining trend in coronavirus infections last week.
A total of 23,244 COVID cases were reported from March 7-13, down 21 percent from the week prior.
The effective reproduction number — which measures how transmissible a disease is at a given time — has also decreased from 0.95 a week ago to 0.66 on Friday.
The overall COVID tally reached 121,957, while the death toll stands at 87.