Pfizer’s antiviral is ‘more coveted than Moutai’ as authorities restrict imports despite the virus wave, reported Financial Times on December 28.
China’s elite are stockpiling supplies of Paxlovid, Pfizer’s Covid antiviral drug.
They give it away to curry favor with business associates as an unprecedented COVID wave leaves hospitals stripped of resources.
As a result, ordinary people are struggling to access medication.
Multiple public and private hospitals told the Financial Times that the drug is the only foreign COVID medication approved in China.
It was either out of stock or only available to patients with severe underlying health conditions.
Doctors said that officials and business owners had snapped up significant stocks of the pills at exorbitant prices to protect their elderly parents, family, or friends.
Analysts said the scramble for Paxlovid was emblematic of the country’s health inequalities.
The limited supply has made Paxlovid a popular gift among China’s well-connected.
An official at one distributing hospital in Beijing said healthy people bought a “considerable” number of prescribed pills.
The official said, “It is more coveted than Moutai,” referring to a premium Chinese liquor brand. Moutai is one of China’s favored business gifts.
A Chinese Communist Party (CCP) adviser said that the scarcity is because authorities feared putting Paxlovid’s local competitors at a disadvantage.
According to the adviser, the CCP wants to “create market space for locally made medicines” and “doesn’t want to count on another country for anti-COVID drugs.”
Therefore, this CCP policy makes its citizens rely on less effective domestic jabs.
Recently, China has been struggling with its worst COVID outbreak after abruptly abandoning its harsh lockdowns, quarantines, and mass testing strategy.
Chinese officials have estimated that 250 million people were infected within 20 days.
At some high-end private hospitals, Paxlovid is available for as much as $1,200 a box for those patients who can afford it.
In April, the U.S. government agreed to pay $530 per five-dose course of Paxlovid medication.
Epochtimes reported on December 29 that the price for each box is $3,000 on the black market in China, while its generic version is at least $316.
As a result, purchasing a box of Paxlovid becomes a luxury for many ordinary people.
Beijing has, in recent months, heavily promoted Lianhua Qingwen, a traditional herbal remedy.
This kind of medicine includes honeysuckle, licorice root, and weeping forsythia.
CCP authorities recommend using Lianhua Qingwen simultaneously with Azvudine, an HIV drug and domestic antiviral, for COVID treatment.
According to the Financial Times, the regime considers these medicines effective treatments despite a lack of clinical data.
In Beijing, an entrepreneur said he received two boxes of Paxlovid this month as a gift from a friend.
His friend had obtained the drug from a hospital department that caters to senior officials.
But he decided not to keep it for himself. Instead, he said, “I am going to give it to someone else who needs the drug as a present.”