A drug that can 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 are unlikely to mount an adequate immune response to COVID-19 vaccination, or for whom vaccination against COVID-19 is not recommended.
The antibody therapy, developed by AstraZeneca, is given through two injections before people are infected or have recently been exposed 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 that physicians prescribe after clinical evaluation of a limited number of individuals.”
Unlike Paxlovid, the other COVID-19 drug currently available in New Brunswick, Evusheld is not authorized to treat COVID-19.
Evusheld is not a substitute for the COVID-19 vaccination for those who qualify either.
But for people with compromised immune systems, such as cancer patients, organ transplant patients, dialysis patients, those with autoimmune diseases or those taking immunosuppressive medications, vaccines alone may not provide adequate protection against COVID-19, according to The president of AstraZeneca Canada said.
“The key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic is to protect as many people as possible from infection, including those who may need an extra layer of protection to prevent COVID-19 than vaccines alone can provide,” Kiersten Combs said. She said Evoshield’s approval was an “important step in this journey”.
New Brunswick recorded 15 more COVID-19 deaths in its weekly report Tuesday.
Hospitalizations due to the virus decreased by six to 81, of whom 10 are in intensive care, according to the governorate. Meanwhile, regional health authorities have reported that a total of 123 people with COVID-19 are receiving treatment in hospital, 13 of whom require intensive care.
The number of new cases of COVID-19 has decreased to 2,534, but this is partly based on PCR (polymerase chain reaction) results, and about 2,000 fewer tests were performed from April 24-30.
Clinical trials found that Evusheld reduced the risk of developing COVID-19 symptoms by 77 percent and protection lasted for at least six months.
“We anticipate that supplies of this drug will be very limited in our county 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 approval in Canada.
While vaccines rely on a person’s natural immune system to develop targeted antibodies and infection-fighting cells, Evusheld contains the laboratory antibodies tixagevimab and cilgavimab, which are designed to remain in the body for several months to contain the virus in case of infection.
Common side effects, expected in 1 in 10 people, may include a rash or hives, or a reaction at the injection site, such as pain, redness, itching, and swelling.
Uncommon side effects, expected in 1 in 100 people, may include headache, chills, redness, and discomfort or pain near the injection site.
There is not enough data yet to confirm that Evusheld is safe for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women. Health Canada recommends that these individuals discuss the potential benefits and risks with their health care provider.
“The best defense against Omicron is vaccination, and we urge everyone to ensure they get their booster dose as quickly as possible,” MacFarlane said.
A total of 52 percent of eligible New Brunswickers are now boosted after another 885 people have received a COVID-19 booster dose, Public Health reported Tuesday, up from 51.9 percent a week ago.
A total of 87.9 percent received two doses, up from 87.8 percent (233 additional subjects), and 93.1 percent received their first dose unchanged again (146 more subjects).
Evusheld is expected to maintain “neutralizing activity against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is now the predominant variant in many communities in Canada,” Health Canada said.
As one of the terms of the license, AstraZeneca shall continue to provide Health Canada with information about the safety and efficacy of Evusheld, including protection against current and emerging variables of concern, as soon as it becomes available.