Antivirals – your questions answered
Answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 antiviral medicines.
What are antivirals?
Antivirals are medicines that help stop a virus infecting healthy cells or multiplying in the body. Fortunately, we have antivirals that work against COVID-19. They work best when taken as soon as possible, usually within 5 days from when your symptoms start.
They come in either pill form to be taken by the mouth or can be given intravenously (directly into the bloodstream).
COVID-19 antivirals do not work against other viruses like the flu. They are only prescribed to eligible people who have tested positive to COVID-19 through a rapid antigen test (RAT) or PCR (nose and throat swab) test.
How do antivirals for COVID-19 work?
Antiviral medicines target the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 to prevent it infecting healthy cells in your body and multiplying. This helps stop the spread of the virus through your body and helps your immune system to fight off the infection.
By reducing how severe the illness is, you are less likely to go to hospital, develop breathing difficulties, need assistance with oxygen or intensive care treatment, or die from COVID-19. It’s important to note that antivirals are not a substitute for vaccination.
What kind of antivirals are available in NSW?
The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has approved two oral antiviral treatments for COVID-19 in Australia called Lagevrio® (molnupiravir) and Paxlovid® (nirmatrelvir + ritonavir). They are both available in NSW.
Most people who are eligible for antivirals will be prescribed oral antivirals, which come in tablet or capsule form, so you can take these medicines at home rather than needing to go to hospital for treatment. There are some other options available such as antiviral injections and in those cases your doctor may advise you to go to a hospital or clinic to receive your antiviral treatment intravenously. Your GP will let you know the best treatment option for you.
For more information on antivirals available in NSW read the below medicine information sheets:
Who is eligible to receive antivirals?
Who is eligible for antivirals:
- Everyone aged over 70
- People aged 50 years and older with two or more risk factors for severe disease
- Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people aged 30 years and older with two or more risk factors for severe illness
- Immunocompromised people over 18 may also be eligible.
If you test positive to COVID-19, have symptoms but do not require hospitalisation, and are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, you may also be eligible for antivirals.
More advice on the eligibility criteria can be found on the Department of Health’s website.
How to access antivirals
- If you test positive to COVID-19 or register a positive RAT , you’ll receive a survey link from NSW Health via SMS.
- If you’re identified as higher risk after completing the survey, you will receive a SMS from Healthdirect Australia.
We are working with Healthdirect Australia, the national government-funded virtual health provider, to help people at higher risk to access antivirals. If you’re identified as higher risk after completing the survey, you will receive a SMS from Healthdirect Australia about discussing antivirals with your GP.
You will only be sent a SMS from Healthdirect Australia if you have:
- received a positive COVID-19 test result or registered a positive rapid antigen test
- completed the survey you receive from NSW Health
- been identified as being at higher risk of severe illness.
3. Call your GP immediately to discuss antivirals (usually via telehealth). Antivirals work best within 5 days from the start of symptoms.
4. If your GP says you are eligible for antivirals, they will send you a prescription (online or paper copy). It’s recommended you ask your pharmacy to arrange home delivery for your medication or ask someone to collect it on your behalf and drop it off.
If you believe you are at high-risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19 and have not received the NSW Health survey and not been able to get in touch with your GP, you can contact the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080 and/or NSW Health’s COVID-19 and Flu care at home support line on 1800 960 933. Nurses on the line will be able to check if you’re eligible for antivirals.
Why can’t everyone access antivirals?
Antivirals can only be used in the early stages of infection and are not suitable for everyone. Most people can manage COVID-19 safely at home without the need for antivirals. They may be beneficial to people who are at higher risk of progressing to severe illness, depending on their circumstances.
You can use the COVID-19 Symptom and Antiviral Eligibility Checker to find out if you may be eligible for antiviral medication.
Are there any side effects?
All medicines can potentially have side effects but most will disappear with time or when you stop treatment.
Antiviral side effects vary depending on what medicine you are being treated with. Please read the medicine information sheets below for more information on side effects:
As antiviral medicines are new, information about how well they work is still being collected. That’s why it is important to speak to your doctor and see if you are eligible for the treatments. Your doctor will tell you if they are safe for you to use.
Who are antiviral treatments NOT recommended for?
How much do oral antivirals cost?
Oral antivirals, Lagevrio® and Paxlovid® are available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in Australia and are heavily subsidised. There are specific PBS eligibility criteria for antivirals and if you meet the criteria you can access antivirals at a minimal cost.
For those who are eligible under the PBS, COVID-19 oral antiviral treatments cost less than $10 for concession card holders, or around $45 for everyone else who is eligible.