77% of Japan's COVID-19 oral drugs set to be destroyed: estimate

COVID-19
Photo: Kyodo

The Japanese government is set to destroy 77 percent of the COVID-19 oral medications it purchased during the novel coronavirus pandemic as they remain unused, an estimate based on government data showed Saturday, Kyodo reports. 

Of the oral drugs secured for 5.6 million people, those for 4.3 million people remain unused. The drugmakers have already made the medications available to the public and the government can only provide them in the event of an emergency after the legal status of the disease was downgraded to the same category as seasonal flu in May last year, the health ministry said.

The remaining Xocova tablets produced by Shionogi & Co., Lagevrio capsules made by Merck & Co. and Paxlovid pills manufactured by Pfizer Inc., estimated to be worth 300 billion yen ($1.93 billion), are expected to be destroyed as they expire.

Ataru Igarashi, a specially appointed professor at the University of Tokyo with expertise in pharmacoeconomics, said it is difficult to accurately predict the quantity of drugs required when a situation is evolving.

"A shortage of drugs would put people's health at risk and having too much would result in financial losses. We must debate how much of either case we can tolerate before the next infectious disease emerges," Igarashi said.

Japan secured Xocova for 2 million people, Lagevrio for 1.6 million and Paxlovid for 2 million, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. The amount paid for the purchases has not been disclosed.

Calculations using publicly available data on the volumes of purchases and shipments showed that Japan still held Xocova for 1.77 million people, Lagevrio for 780,000 and Paxlovid for 1.75 million as of the end of March. The drugs were priced at 52,000 yen, 94,000 yen and 99,000 yen per person, respectively.

While more than half of the purchased Lagevrio capsules were shipped, fewer than half of the Xocova tablets were as government approval for the drug came relatively late in the pandemic. Paxlovid pills have not been used as much as expected as they cannot be taken with certain drugs.

Japan has already disposed of 240 million shots of COVID-19 vaccines after initially signing contracts for the purchase of 930 million shots and later canceling some. The health ministry has told the Diet the destroyed vaccines were worth 665.3 billion yen.

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