Africa CDC talking to Pfizer about importing its COVID treatment pill

Governments around the world are scrambling to buy Paxlovid, while Merck's Molnupiravir has faced setbacks after disappointing trial data.

 John Nkengasong, Africa's Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), at the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (photo credit: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI)
John Nkengasong, Africa's Director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC), at the African Union (AU) Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TIKSA NEGERI)

Africa's top public health body is in talks with Pfizer about bringing in supplies of its antiviral Paxlovid treatment pills for COVID-19 to the continent, its director said on Thursday.

Paxlovid was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths, and data suggested it retains its effectiveness against Omicron, Pfizer has said.

"We are in really close discussions with Pfizer to see what can be done to make the drugs available on the continent and accessible on the continent, that is the Paxlovid drugs," said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control.

Governments around the world are scrambling to buy Paxlovid, while Merck's Molnupiravir has faced setbacks after disappointing trial data.

Nkengasong said that obtaining supplies of COVID-19 drugs was one of three key strategies for combating the pandemic in Africa in 2022, along with scaling up vaccinations and expanding testing.

Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021.  (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION/FILE PHOTO)Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC/ILLUSTRATION/FILE PHOTO)

Drugs for treating COVID-19 would be crucial in the eventuality of another highly transmissible variant emerging and public health systems becoming overwhelmed, he said.

"The only way to relieve that will be if we have drugs like Paxlovid where people can take that drug and stay home and get relief, and that way the burden and the constraints on the health system will be limited," Nkengasong told an online news briefing.

"That's why we are working on those three things this year very, very actively," he said.

Africa has officially recorded just over 10 million cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, although the real number is likely much higher due to patchy testing.

Several African countries are going through fourth or fifth waves of infections.

Nkengasong said 10% of Africans were fully vaccinated.

South Korea will begin treating COVID-19 patients with Paxlovid on Friday, the first Asian country to do so.