18th March 2023 – (Hong Kong) Police have recently received a referral from the Department of Health regarding suspicions of individuals falsely claiming to be suffering from COVID-19 to private doctors in order to obtain free COVID-19 oral medication. After conducting investigations, law enforcement officers arrested a 60-year-old male surnamed Lam in the Sham Shui Po district yesterday morning (17th) on suspicion of “fraud”. The investigation revealed that the arrested individual had visited 9 private clinics within 5 days, obtaining a total of 9 doses of COVID-19 oral medication via prescriptions. The arrested male has been released on bail pending further investigation and must report to the law enforcement department in mid-April.
On 27th February of this year, police officers arrested a 63-year-old male surnamed Chan in the Tseung Kwan O district on suspicion of “fraud”. The investigation revealed that the arrested individual had visited 9 private clinics within 2 days, obtaining a total of 9 doses of COVID-19 oral medication via prescriptions.
Both COVID-19 oral medications available in Hong Kong, Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, have been registered as pharmaceutical products in accordance with the Pharmacy and Poisons Regulations. Private doctors may order these two COVID-19 oral medications from pharmaceutical companies and prescribe them to COVID-19 patients in need of self-purchasing.
The government reminds the public that attempts to obtain COVID-19 oral medication through improper means (including deceiving doctors) may constitute fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment upon conviction. Selling, reselling or providing prescription drugs without charge is considered an offense under the Pharmacy and Poisons Ordinance, which carries a maximum penalty of a HK$ 100,000 fine and 2 years’ imprisonment.
Paxlovid, an oral antiviral medication, has garnered significant media attention as a potential COVID-19 treatment. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised the drug’s emergency use in December 2021 for individuals aged 12 and older who weigh at least 88 pounds and are at high risk of severe disease.
High-risk patients can take Paxlovid at home to mitigate the need for hospitalisation. In the clinical trial that supported the EUA, unvaccinated individuals experienced an 89% reduction in the risk of hospitalisation and death when treated with the drug. This impressive result prompted the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to prioritise Paxlovid over other COVID-19 treatments. Studies outside of the laboratory have since confirmed its efficacy among vaccinated individuals. The cost of Paxlovid is relatively low compared to other COVID-19 drugs, and it is provided for free by the U.S. government during public health emergencies. Additionally, Paxlovid is anticipated to be effective against the Omicron variant, providing reassurance for those seeking a reliable treatment option.
Meanwhile, Molnupiravir is an oral medication that has been approved for the treatment of mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in adults with positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 viral testing who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19. This medication is recommended for individuals for whom alternative FDA-authorised COVID-19 treatments are not accessible or clinically appropriate.
It is noteworthy that molnupiravir is the second oral medication approved for COVID-19 treatment, following nirmatrelvir/ritonavir. However, it is important to mention that its efficacy is lower, at around 30% (95% CI, 1-51%), against hospitalisation or death in unvaccinated adults with mild or moderate COVID-19 and at least one risk factor for disease progression.