Avigan inappropriately given to COVID-19 outpatients in Chiba Prefecture

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The oral antivirus drug Avigan was prescribed by a doctor at Isumi Medical Center in Isumi, Chiba Prefecture, to a COVID-19 outpatient. The patient took nine of 33 tablets, leaving them with 24 tablets of a drug that requires strict control.

The oral antiviral medication Avigan was prescribed in August and September to about 90 COVID-19 patients recuperating at home, a violation of health ministry policy, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The doctor responsible was an adviser for novel coronavirus measures at the Isumi Medical Center, a public hospital in Isumi, Chiba Prefecture. The health ministry on Nov. 25 instructed the center to report on the situation, saying it was “regrettable, as the drug requires strict control measures.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Isumi Medical Center, a public hospital in Isumi, Chiba Prefecture

No serious health problems have been reported so far.

Avigan has been approved for stockpiling to treat new strains of influenza, but not for COVID-19 treatment. Clinical trials have been conducted as part of efforts to gain approval for its use related to COVID-19, and the drug has been administered to over 15,000 people domestically.

However, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has put out a notice that Avigan should not be administered to patients staying at home, as it was found to cause fetal deformities in animal experiments.

The 72-year-old male doctor who prescribed the Avigan announced in September, together with Isumi Mayor Hiroshi Ota, the use of an unnamed drug on COVID-19 outpatients to prevent them from developing serious symptoms.

“As a result of [the drug’s] prescription, all the patients recovered,” the doctor and the mayor said.

According to sources, the doctor has been involved in community health care in Chiba Prefecture for many years and was commissioned as an adviser last year. He made plans to use Avigan in case the medical system came under strain.

The doctor applied to the health ministry to participate in clinical trials and procured Avigan. He provided the drug to COVID-19 patients, who had come to the hospital by car, through their vehicle windows and had them take it at home.

The Yomiuri Shimbun spoke to the doctor by phone on Sunday, and he said he had resigned from his advisory post at the end of November. He “couldn’t talk” about Avigan, he said.