The German government has placed an order for 1 million doses of Pfizer's Paxlovid drug to treat severe cases of COVID-19, it announced on Tuesday.
The first deliveries are expected before the end of January, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told the dpa news agency in Berlin.
"The drug is extremely promising because it can significantly mitigate severe cases of COVID when administered early. I expect that we can use it to prevent numerous severe outcomes in intensive care units," Lauterbach said.
In clinical trials the pill had shown nearly 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients, according to Pfizer.
The drug is administered in combination with an older antiviral drug called ritonavir every 12 hours for five days, beginning shortly after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms.
Lauterbach said the drug gives doctors a new method to fight the virus.
"Slowly, through a combination of increasingly effective vaccines and treatment options, COVID is becoming a disease that will lose its terror," he said.
He said the government was working with all the drug manufacturers that are developing appropriate medicines.
"I'd rather have us fight this battle with rapid vaccination and effective drugs, than having to close schools," he told dpa.
Lauterbach said that the Health Ministry was working towards an emergency approval for the drug:
"To ensure that Paxlovid can be used immediately upon delivery, I have initiated the procedure for emergency approval in Germany together with the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices," he said.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave emergency approval for the antiviral drug just before Christmas, making it the first COVID drug available in tablet form in the US.
The US FDA has also approved Merck's Molnupiravir antiviral drug for adults with a positive COVID-19 test, early symptoms and who face the highest risks of hospitalization. It comes with a warning against use during pregnancy and has the potential to cause birth defects.
France recently canceled a major order for Merck's treatment following disappointing trials, which showed that the drug only reduced hospitalizations and deaths among high-risk patients by around 30%.
The EU regulator, the EMA, is slated to decide on approvals for the Merck and Pfizer pills in early 2022. However, in November it issued advice on using Merck's pill for adults ahead of providing any wider recommendation. And earlier this month, the EMA said that EU member states could use Pfizer's antiviral drug early after diagnosis of an infection despite a full review not being completed.
Antibody treatments such as those from Regeneron and Eli Lilly are an alternative to antiviral treatments, but may have reduced efficacy against the omicron variant.
aw/rt (Reuters, dpa, AP)