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The facts about Paxlovid


We are in the sixth wave of COVID-19 but with more effective resources and tools, we are in a better position to respond to this ongoing pandemic.

Health Canada approved the use of Paxlovid in January this year, the first oral and at-home antiviral treatment to help keep patients at high risk of getting so sick that they need to be hospitalized.


What do we need to know about this prescription medication? Here are the answers to some of your frequently asked questions.

What is in Paxlovid?

It contains two antiviral medicines co-packaged together, nirmatrelvir (pink tablet) and ritonavir (white tablet).


How does it work?

The first ingredient, nirmatrelvir, stops the virus from multiplying.

The second medication, ritonavir, does not have any effect on the COVID-19 virus, but it has an important role as a 'boosting agent' by slowing the breakdown of nirmatrelvir in the liver and helping it work longer in the body.

With this treatment, your body will have a better chance of overcoming the infection, which should help you feel better faster.


What is the best time to start taking Paxlovid?

In order for it to be effective, Paxlovid needs to be taken within five days of developing symptoms. At this time, it is still at the initial stage of viral replication and the treatment can still prevent it from moving to the significant inflammatory response that can lead to hospitalization and poor outcomes.


Who can get Paxlovid?

In Alberta, you can be eligible to get Paxlovid if you:

  • have a positive AHS-confirmed test for COVID-19 (confirmed by text message from AHS) 

  • have mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms 

  • can receive the medication within five days from when symptoms started

You also need to meet the following criteria:


1.  Anyone who is unvaccinated or has only received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and is:

  • 55 years of age or older, regardless of other health conditions

  • Indigenous and 45 years of age or older, regardless of other health conditions

  • pregnant (when the benefits of treatment are felt to outweigh any risk to the fetus)

  • 18 years of age or older with one of the following health conditions: 

    • diabetes requiring medication 

    • obesity (BMI >30) 

    • chronic kidney disease (estimated glomerular filtration rate, <60 ml per minute per 1.73 m2 of body-surface area)

    • congestive heart failure (New York Heart Association class II, III, or IV)  chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and moderate-to-severe asthma 

2. Vaccinated or unvaccinated patients who are immunocompromised due to one of the following reasons:

  • have received a transplant (solid organ or stem cell)

  • an oncology patient who has received a dose of any IV or oral chemotherapy or other immunosuppressive treatment since December 2020

  • patients with inflammatory conditions (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, inflammatory bowel disease) receiving a dose of any systemic immunosuppressive treatment since December 2020. 

3. Residents of Long-Term Care and Designated Supportive Living facilities, regardless of age or vaccination status.


4. All First Nations, Metis, and Inuit individuals aged 45 years and older regardless of vaccination status or where they live.


How do I get Paxlovid?

In Alberta, you have to call or leave a message to Health Link at 1-844-343-0971.

Be prepared to give the following information such as the date your symptoms started. vaccination status and current medication list before calling Health Link.

A Health Link staff will call you back and ask you screening questions before referring you to a healthcare professional who will determine if you are eligible, get your consent, and write you a prescription for Paxlovid. The prescription will then be directed to the closest community pharmacy that has Paxlovid in stock.

How do I take Paxlovid?

Take 2 pink nirmatrelvir tablets and 1 white ritonavir tablet at the same time, twice a day (in the morning and again in the evening) for 5 days. A lower dose may be prescribed for people with kidney problems.


What if I missed a dose?

If it is within 8 hours of the time it is usually taken, take it as soon as you remember.

If it has been more than 8 hours, skip the missed dose and take the next dose at your regular time.

Two doses of Paxlovid should not be taken at the same time.


What are the possible side effects?

Possible side effects may include an altered sense of taste, diarrhea, muscle pain, vomiting, high blood pressure, and headache


Does it interact with my medications?

Paxlovid has a long list of drug interactions so it is very important to provide a complete medication, recreational, and natural health product history. Since the second ingredient, ritonavir, works by stopping your liver from breaking down nirmatrelvir, it can also stop other drugs from being broken down by your liver. With some medications, this can lead to side effects that can have serious consequences.


What if gets worse even after taking Paxlovid?

Call 911 right away if you develop severe symptoms such as difficulty breathing, severe chest pain, feelings of confusion, or loss of consciousness.

You should receive a follow-up call from your healthcare provider in a few days and you should report any change or progress in your symptoms.




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