As public health measures begin to ease across the country, provinces are relying on the availability of new oral medications meant to reduce the risk of COVID-19 induced hospitalizations to keep the strain on our health care system to a minimum. While Pfizer’s new COVID pill has already been approved, we are only receiving a limited supply.
But Pfizer is not the only candidate for such medication; Merck has also developed a drug for the same purpose, with millions of doses being manufactured in Ontario. One would think this would facilitate access to this medicine, but Health Canada has yet to approve it. Thousands of Merck tablets are thus lying dormant in a Montreal warehouse, pending the department’s decision.
To be clear, Health Canada has had the Merck file since August 2021. Meanwhile, the United States and the United Kingdom, among other countries, have already given this new drug the green light. Couldn’t we simply trust these countries’ approval processes?
Health Canada’s lengthy delay in approving new drugs is unfortunately not surprising. Such foot-dragging by the department has been pointed out before. And with an approval process surpassing 300 days on average, even for its expedited pathway, Canadians may sadly be waiting a while longer before obtaining access to this important drug.