Molnupiravir, the US-made drug intended for Covid-19 treatment and marketed in some regions as Molnatris, will be sold at private hospitals, clinics and pharmacies to the public from December 23 onwards.

Healthcare businesses wishing to distribute the drug can buy it from the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications during working hours from Monday to Friday.

The announcement of its availability was made on December 22 by the working group on the management, distribution and supply of strategic drugs for the fight against Covid-19 – one of the working groups under the National Committee for Combating Covid-19.

The notice said that in order to treat Covid-19 patients and reduce the rates of hospitalisations and mortality from the disease, the working group has imported the 200mg molnupiravir capsules with the brand name Molnatris for use in treating mild to moderate Covid-19 adult patients.

“This drug will be distributed at a price of $55 for a full treatment regimen consisting of 40 tablets. The drug will be sold from December 23 to private hospitals, clinics, pharmacies and the public under some conditions,” the notice said.

The working group set purchase limits for the 40-pill boxes – corresponding to the recommended five-day treatment course – at 10 for individuals and 200 for licensed private hospitals, clinics and pharmacies. It also capped the resale price at $65 per box.

The group seeming indicated that it would also set lower purchase limits – five for individuals and 10 for the licensed establishments – although it was not immediately clear how strictly these would be enforced.

The notice said buyers can re-order more after at least two weeks have passed since their last purchase through the ministry.

The Ministry of Health has advised that the drug be used only by people who are confirmed positive for Covid-19 and mainly by individuals who are at risk of developing serious illness.

The Molnupiravir 200mg pills are to be taken orally – after meals or on an empty stomach – with a glass of water and without opening up the capsule, grinding or chewing it.

“Covid-19 patients should take 800 mg – equivalent to four tablets of 200mg each – every 12 hours for five consecutive days, or 40 tablets in total. Treatment should begin as soon as possible following a confirmed diagnosis of Covid-19 and preferably within five days of the onset of any symptoms,” the ministry said.

It noted that if patients forget to take their dose within 10 hours of the scheduled time, they should take it as soon as possible and maintain their regular dosing plan. If the patients forget to take the dose and more than 10 hours have elapsed, they should not take that dose and instead skip it and take the next dose at the correct time.

“Patients should not take twice the amount at one time to make up for forgotten doses. The safety and efficacy of molnupiravir for infants and patients under 18 years old has not yet been studied,” it said.

Citing the drug’s clinical trial data, the ministry said it can cause minor side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches and skin rash.

The drug is not recommended for women who are pregnant or intend to become pregnant because it has not been tested or approved for this group and there is a possibility of birth defects or other unknown health consequences.

Separately, health minister Mam Bun Heng issued a letter dated December 22 commending municipal and provincial governors – including health officials at all levels and volunteers – on their hard work fighting Covid-19.

“We have to continue to work hard and encourage Covid-19 vaccinations with a standard two-dose regimen and a booster shot so that we reach our goals,” the letter read.

Bun Heng also advised them to continue to educate people to properly implement health measures and learn to adapt their lives to the new normal in the context of Covid-19 by practicing the three dos and three don’ts guideline.

Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said the ministry has issued a number of advisories over the past two months reminding those eligible to receive their booster shots as soon as possible, which has now become a matter of some urgency with the emergence of the Omicron variant.

“We already have Covid-19 vaccines, but people are encouraged to get a booster shot because some people who have received the standard two-dose regimen do not seem interested in taking the third dose,” she said.

People need to get booster shots because this variant can easily infect vaccinated people, but the booster doses will help them avoid serious illness or death, she explained.