The COVID-19 vaccines continue to remain the best way to defend against a coronavirus infection. However, for some people with certain health conditions there remains the risk of becoming seriously unwell with a coronavirus infection. In addition to the vaccines, the NHS are now offering new monoclonal antibody and antiviral treatments to individuals deemed to be at the highest risk from COVID-19. They are designed to help people in the community, who are in the earliest stages of infection, by stopping serious illness. To be effective, the treatments need to be given as soon as possible following symptoms and a positive lateral flow test. The following information will help you to understand more about the treatments and who might be able to access the treatments and how they can be accessed.
Who can access COVID-19 treatments?
You may be eligible for a COVID-19 treatment if all the following criteria apply:
- You are 12 and over
- You are at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill from a COVID-19 infection
- You have symptoms of COVID-19
- You have tested positive for COVID-19
You may be at the highest risk of developing severe disease from COVID-19 if you have one of the listed conditions below:
- Down syndrome
- certain types of cancer or if you've had treatment for a certain cancer
- sickle cell disease
- chronic kidney disease (stage 4 or 5)
- severe liver disease
- if you've had an organ transplant
- certain autoimmune or inflammatory conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease
- HIV or AIDS and a weakened immune system
- a condition that affects your immune system
- a rare condition affecting the brain or nerves (multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease, Huntingdon's disease, or myasthenia gravis)
Muscular Dystrophy UK is aware that not all people living with a muscle-wasting, or a neuromuscular condition will be eligible to access COVID-19 treatments should they test positive for coronavirus. We are liaising with a group of neuromuscular clinical experts to seek further clarification as to whether there are other conditions, in addition to myasthenia gravis (which is explicitly named in official guidance), which would make some people eligible for the treatments.
Once a referral has been made to the Covid medicines delivery unit (CMDU), a doctor or a specialist will carry out an assessment to see if you will be eligible to receive the treatment.
What treatments are available?
The available treatments have shown a reduction in the risk of hospitalisation and severe illness. The following treatments are being delivered by the Covid Medicines Delivery Unit (CMDU) team and available on the NHS to those who meet the eligibility criteria:
- Paxlovid is an oral antiviral medicine. Paxlovid has many potential drug interactions, which means that it may not be suitable for many high-risk patients. The assessing clinician should be made aware of any medication you take to manage your condition, so they can make an informed decision about whether this line of treatment would be suitable.
- Sotrovimab is a biological medicine, also known as a neutralising monoclonal antibody treatment. It is a one-dose therapy, which needs to be given through a drip (infusion) in your arm and can only be delivered in a clinical setting, such as a care centre or a hospital. The CMDU will advise you on how and where you will receive this treatment, including information on how to travel there and back safely.
- Remdesivir is an antiviral treatment given through infusion like Sotrovimab, however unlike Sotrovimab, which only requires one treatment, remdesivir is given over three separate days. You can start remdesivir seven days after the onset of symptoms.
- Molnupiravir: is an antiviral medicine that works to stop the virus from growing and spreading. Like Paxlovid, this is an oral medicine that comes in capsules, and is to be taken at home. It is important to carefully follow the advice of the clinician who has prescribed this medication to ensure you are taking the treatment correctly.
For further information on the available treatments, please refer to the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/treatments-for-coronavirus/
How to access treatments?
Access to treatments will be down to testing for a COVD-19 infection. In the early stages of the COVID-19 treatments rollout, access to these medicines were only available following a positive PCR test, and people deemed eligible at the time were advised to keep a spare PCR test kit at home in case they began to experience symptoms. PCR testing is no longer available in most areas of the UK. If you still have a PCR test kit at home, you can keep a hold of it as you may be asked to use it later by the NHS team arranging your treatment.
A lateral flow test (LFT) will need to be used to test for a COVID-19 infection. It is important to note that since the 1st of April, access to a LFT is not widely available for most people. However, for people who are eligible for COVID-19 treatments, it is possible to access to tests.
You should make sure that you have some test kits at home. If you need to order more tests, or you do not have any you should order your free tests via the GOV.UK website: https://www.gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests. You can also call 119 to order tests if you are unable to do so online.
If you begin to experience COVID-19 symptoms, you will need to complete a LFT following the kit instructions as soon as possible. You should do this even if your initial symptoms seem mild. It is important that the test you are completing is an NHS test, and not one you have purchased privately. This is because it is not possible to report the result of a private test on the GOV website and will mean that you cannot be contacted by the NHS about COVID-19 treatments.
Once you have carried out a test, you must report the result of the rapid test via https://www.gov.uk/report-covid19-result or by calling 119. It is important to carry out these steps without delay, so that you can be contacted by the NHS if your result is positive.
If you do receive a positive LFT and you are eligible for a COVID-19 treatment, the treatment will need to begin very soon after the start of your symptoms – this is so the medicine can work more effectively. You will usually be contacted within 24 hours of a positive result by a clinician from the NHS. The NHS doctor will need to speak with you to get some more information, they might ask some questions about any medication that you take. It’s important to let them know as much information as possible so they can check if treatment would be appropriate.
The NHS team that gets in touch will let you know which treatment will be suitable for you and they will give you the information on how to access this. Some of the COVID-19 treatments can be taken at home and others will need to be given in hospital or health clinic. All treatments for COVID-19 are free on the NHS, and you will never be asked to pay for any prescribed medication.
If you have not been contacted by the NHS within 24 hours of a positive test, and are eligible for treatment, you should contact your GP practice, specialist consultant or you can call 111. An urgent referral can be made from your GP, specialist or via 111.
Treatment advice for Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland
For the latest information about the treatments in the other UK nations, please visit:
- Northern Ireland Treatments for coronavirus (COVID-19) | nidirect
- Scotland Coronavirus (COVID-19): Treatments | NHS Inform
- Wales COVID-19 treatments | GOV.WALES
If you have any questions or concerns relating to COVID-19 treatments and your neuromuscular condition, we advise that you contact your GP or your neuromuscular team directly.
Separate to the COVID-19 treatments available through the NHS, there are some antiviral medicines available through a UK wide clinical study led by the University of Oxford, which is known as PANORAMIC.
This study investigates new antiviral treatments for COVID-19 and the aim of this is to find out whether antiviral medicines administered to those with COVID-19 in the community reduce the need for hospital admission, and whether they help people to recover quicker. Currently, the antiviral treatments Molnupiravir and Paxlovid are being investigated.
The following criteria need to be met to be eligible to join this study:
- you are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, which have begun in the last 5 days
- AND you have had a positive COVID-19 test
- AND you are aged 50+, OR you are aged 18 and over with one of the conditions listed here.
You do not need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to take part in this study.
If you think you would be eligible to take part in this study or want to find out more about what is involved in the trial, please follow this link for more: https://www.panoramictrial.org/participant-information.