Eligibility for potentially lifesaving COVID-19 antiviral treatments is to be widened.
Health Minister Mark Butler says Australians over 70 who test positive to the virus will be able to access antivirals on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme from Monday.
Access will also be expanded to people over 50 with two or more risk factors for severe disease and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people over 30 with two or more risk factors.
Anyone 18 or over and immunocompromised may also be eligible.
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The move comes with Australia’s COVID-19 death toll surpassing 10,200 and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese urging people to consider a fourth vaccine dose.
More than 37,000 new infections and 77 deaths were reported across the country on Saturday with Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5 now the dominant strains of the virus.
Almost 42,000 cases were also announced nationally on Friday, the third 40,000-plus day in a row.
The number of Australians hospitalised with the virus tops 4000, up by more than 1000 in the past fortnight.
“COVID cases and hospitalisation numbers are climbing, particularly with the new variants,” Mr Butler said on Sunday.
“These oral antivirals dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease particularly for older Australians and will help keep people out of hospital.”
More than 73,000 Australians have already benefited from the medicines.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee recommended the changes in response to the latest evidence on the effectiveness and safety of the medicines, current usage and the changing epidemiology of COVID-19.
Antiviral treatments, taken as a tablet or capsule, help stop infection from becoming severe but need to be started early after testing positive.
Mr Butler says the former government bought hundreds of thousands of antiviral doses “that have been sitting on a shelf instead of being used to help people who are at risk”.
Two antivirals are on the PBS. Normally costing more than $1000, they will be available from Monday for $6.80 for concession card holders and around $40 for everyone else.
Also from Monday, Australians over 30 will be able to get a fourth COVID vaccine dose or second booster.