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Contingent Liability Notification: Covid-19 Antivirals

Volume 707: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2022

Departmental Contingent Liability Notification (deployment of the novel oral antiviral drug PF-07321332+ritonavir)

I am making this statement for the benefit of hon. and right hon. Members to bring to their attention a contingent liability the Government have agreed to relating to the two contracts signed between Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) and the medicine supplier Pfizer for the covid-19 antiviral drug PF-07321332+ritonavir (co-packaged and marketed as Paxlovid).

On 20 October 2021, the Government announced the procurement of two novel oral antivirals to treat UK covid-19 patients. One of these was PF-07321332+ritonavir, of which the Government purchased 250,000 patient courses.

On 22 December, during recess, the UK Government procured an additional 4.25 million antivirals to treat covid-19. This included a further 2.5 million patient courses of PF-07321332+ritonavir.

Antivirals including PF-07321332+ritonavir will support the community-based treatment and recovery of those at highest risk of hospitalisation and death who test positive for the virus. We do not anticipate a reduction in effectiveness of antivirals against the omicron variant compared to delta.

On 31 December 2021, PF-07321332+ritonavir was granted a conditional marketing authorisation by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and a temporary regulation 174 authorisation for Northern Ireland to ensure access to supply across the UK. This was after PF-07321332+ritonavir (Paxlovid) was found to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death in people with mild to moderate covid-19 infection who are at an increased risk of developing severe disease.

I am now updating the House on the contingent liability HMG has taken on in relation to antiviral supply via this statement and a departmental minute which has been laid.

Even if vaccination and revaccination against new variants is largely effective, they are not enough to protect vulnerable cohorts of patients including the immunocompromised and those who cannot have a vaccine or fail to mount a sufficient immune response. Antivirals add another layer of resilience and flexibility to the UK’s fight against covid-19. To continue obtaining the benefits of improved health outcomes such as reducing deaths, hospitalisations, severe disease and its complications, a programme of investment in antivirals is required.

Given the exceptional circumstances we remain in, rapid purchase of these antivirals, while they remained available, was vital. Willingness to accept a contingent liability with respect to antiviral suppliers has helped to secure access to antivirals, with the expected benefits to public health and the economy alike, much sooner than could have been the case otherwise.

While we have been required to work at pace to gain access to these emerging viable antivirals in a highly competitive global market, we have, of course, continued to have due regard for the fundamentals of protecting the taxpayer and ensuring appropriate standards of public administration are followed.

Even though PF-07321332+ritonavir has been developed at pace, the process of approval for this drug has included a full assessment of data and clinical trial results by the MHRA. This is used to assess the safety, quality and efficacy of the treatment before issuing a licence.

I will update the House in a similar manner regarding the deployment of PF-07321332+ritonavir into the community and the wider rollout of molnupiravir.