© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Paxlovid, Pfizer’s anti-viral medication to treat the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is displayed in this picture illustration taken October 7, 2022. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/Illustration
(Corrects to reflect Huahai deal was in August not April in paragraph 12)
BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese healthcare platform has started selling Pfizer (NYSE:)’s oral COVID-19 treatment Paxlovid in what appears to be the first retail sale of the drug in the country, as China braces for a surge in COVID patients.
The medication sold out just over half an hour after the listing was reported in the media, the platform’s customer service said, underscoring surging demand for COVID and flu medicines in China.
Three years into the pandemic, China began pivoting away from its signature “zero COVID” policy just this month after historic protests against the economically-damaging curbs that had been championed by President Xi Jinping.
The sudden loosening of restrictions has sparked long queues outside fever clinics in a worrying sign that a wave of infections is building, even though official tallies of new COVID cases have trended lower recently as authorities eased back on testing.
Healthcare company 111.inc started selling Paxlovid for 2,980 yuan ($426.80) per box, the sales page on the app showed on Tuesday.
People can purchase the medication on the app if they submit a positive COVID-19 test result.
It was not clear how many boxes were sold or when sales would resume, or whether other retailers have also started selling the two-drug treatment.
Pfizer in an emailed statement said it is “actively collaborating with all stakeholders to secure an adequate supply of Paxlovid in China and remains committed to fulfilling the COVID-19 treatment needs of patients in China.”
The launch of retail sales of Paxlovid in China could be a major earnings boost to Pfizer, which has faced some investor concerns about a sharp hit to its revenue from an expected decline in COVID vaccine demand.
Paxlovid, which was approved by China in February, has been available through hospitals to treat high-risk patients in several provinces, Chinese media Yicai reported in March.
Pfizer’s clinical trial tested Paxlovid in unvaccinated people at risk for serious disease. It found that the pills taken for five days soon after symptoms onset cut the risk of hospitalization and death by 90%. It has not shown that the treatment is effective in those considered at standard risk, including vaccinated patients.
Pfizer signed a deal in August for Chinese drugmaker Zhejiang Huahai to produce Paxlovid in mainland China solely for patients there.
The U.S. drugmaker said last year that it could produce up to 120 million courses of Paxlovid this year, but it is not immediately known how many it has produced so far.
In the United States, Pfizer has delivered more than 9 million courses and patients have used over 6 million courses of the treatment, according to government data.
Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, jointly developed with German partner BioNTech using mRNA technology, is not approved for use in China.
(This story has been corrected to reflect Huahai deal was in August not April in paragraph 12)