Pharmac announced on Monday that it will increase access to palivizumab, a preventative medicine which is used to prevent respiratory syncytical virus (RSV). RSV is a common, highly contagious virus that can cause infections of the lungs and respiratory tract. It is the leading cause of hospitalisation for lower respiratory tract infections in infants.

South Auckland-based paediatrician Dr Adrian Trenholme, who has a special interest in RSV and paediatric respiratory diseases and is an advisor on the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board, says health professionals are delighted at Pharmac’s decision.

"We are pleased that they have listened to feedback on the ongoing need for this preventative treatment, and especially pleased that they have widened access so it will be available to more Māori and Pasifika babies and those on home ventilation. This is a long overdue effort to address the inequity experienced by these children. We know Māori and Pasifika children are three to four times more likely to be hospitalised from RSV than other groups," he says.

Pharmac’s decision followed a large spike in RSV cases in 2021, which prompted the agency to secure the medication and make it available to a small group of high-risk children last year. Following specialist advice, it has extended funding for the medicine for the 2022/2023 flu seasons and widened the eligibility criteria.

The agency estimates that 940 babies and young children will benefit from the medication over the next two years, reducing their risk of hospitalisation.

Dr Trenholme says he hopes this decision will pave the way for future funding of palivizumab. "This treatment has been available for more than 20 years, and we have known for longer than that how seriously this disease impacts Māori and Pacific babies and young children. We hope that we will see ongoing funding of palivizumab and that Pharmac will fund new generation-type treatments as they come available."

New generation treatments could involve a once-a-season injection to prevent RSV, instead of monthly injections of palivizumab. Palivizumab will be available from 1 June 2022 until 31 December 2023.

Dr Trenholme is advising parents of children born prematurely at less than 32 weeks in the last 12 months and those on ventilators in the community born in the last two years, to contact their health specialist to see if they will be eligible to receive the treatment.


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