TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — China’s health care authorities declined to include Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment drug in a national reimbursement list that would have allowed patients to get it at a cheaper price throughout the country, saying it was too expensive.

Paxlovid, an oral medicine developed by New York-based drugmaker Pfizer, has been widely sought after in China since the country began phasing out its “zero-COVID” restrictions and a surge of infections started sweeping through the country. Although it is supposed to be prescribed by medical professionals, that hasn’t stopped people scrambling to purchase it on their own through any means at their disposal — including buying generic Indian versions of the drug through the internet, according to local media reports.

Health care policymakers can leverage bulk purchases to lower prices in negotiations with pharmaceutical companies that, in turn, can net a steady source of revenue. A drug must be included on the reimbursement list to be covered by the national insurance scheme. China will include two other COVID-19 drugs: the Chinese-made antiviral Azvudine and the Chinese herbal blend medicine Qingfei Paidu Granules, said the National Healthcare Security Administration in a statement Sunday.

Paxlovid will still be available for use for those patients who can afford it. Paxlovid and Azvudine are prescription drugs used to prevent mild COVID-19 cases from becoming more severe.

While the Chinese government has blocked the import of non-Chinese-made vaccines like the Pfizer mRNA shot, relying on domestically made vaccines, it nonetheless approved the company’s COVID-19 drug for import in February 2022.

The country is grappling with a major COVID-19 wave, as the virus has swept through major cities like Beijing and Chengdu. Sunday marked the first day in almost three years that visitors would no longer have to quarantine when traveling into China.

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