An at-home covid prescription pill from Merck reduced hospitalizations by 50%

An at-home covid prescription pill from Merck reduced hospitalizations by 50%

The death toll in the US from covid has surpassed 700,000, which is heartbreaking and hard to fathom. I did the math and that’s .21 percent of the population, so almost a quarter of one percent. The actual numbers are surely higher than that. Florida has been fudging the statistics and there are uncounted deaths from lack of treatment and delayed treatment as unvaccinated patients take up hospital resources. The good news is that there may be an end to the pandemic in sight that does not require people to be mildly inconvenienced by getting a vaccination to prevent a deadly virus. (Of course there are also vulnerable people, children under 12 and the housebound who cannot be vaccinated.) Merck has been testing an oral prescription against coronavirus, given as early as possible. The pill was so effective in clinical trials that the trial was halted to get it to the public as soon as possible. Of course it’s not as effective as the vaccines, but it’s incredibly promising.

Taking a course of a particular antiviral pill over five days, shortly after COVID-19 diagnosis, may slash the risk of being hospitalized or dying of the virus by 50%, according to preliminary results announced by pharmaceutical companies Merck and Ridgeback.

If this pill — called molnupiravir — is ultimately authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, it would be the first antiviral pill people can take at home to reduce their risk of winding up in the hospital from the coronavirus. The medication would require a prescription and likely be for people with mild or moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

“This is the first oral antiviral that will be available to combat COVID-19 and why that’s so important, if you think of it if you’re someone who is unfortunate enough to get the news that you’ve contracted COVID-19, this is the pill, you can take it home and will significantly reduce the risk that you either ultimately are hospitalized or more importantly that you would ever face the unfortunate outcome of death,” Robert M. Davis, the chief executive officer and president of Merck told “Good Morning America” Friday.

“It’s really exciting,” Dr. Carlos Del Rio, the executive associate dean and a global health expert at the Emory School of Medicine, said.

Right now, most COVID-19 patients are sent home and told to monitor their symptoms. Having an effective pill to offer them would “make a difference,” Del Rio added.

Merck Thursday morning announced the results of an ongoing Phase 3 study are so compelling that an independent monitoring board recommended, in consultation with the FDA, ending the trial early so the companies can swiftly seek authorization. The full set of data would become available to the public at that time.

“This is an oral antiviral. So it’s a pill. You take it. It’s a five-day course of therapy and by taking the pill it actually inserts into the RNA of the virus and stops it from working and that really is the magic of how this works and really allows you to significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization or death,” Davis said.

[From ABC News]

Again, people should still get vaccinated and this is much less effective. Plus it’s not yet available to the public. I hope this gets emergency use authorization soon! Along with this treatment from Merck there could be other coronavirus prescriptions coming. There are two other oral covid treatments being tested now, one from Roche in conjunction with Atea called AT-527, and another from Pfizer, PF-07321332.* These treatments, if people are willing to take them, will go a long way toward helping save lives. Of course we could avoid so many severe infections and deaths if more antivaxxers and vaccine hesitant people would just get one of the freely available vaccines, but at least there’s a new treatment coming. Whether people will take a prescription or will continue to do things like gargle iodine, inhale hydrogen peroxide or eat horse dewormer paste remains to be seen.

I’ve been worried that family and friends might not be able to get care for non-covid medical emergencies since hospitals are full. I am so happy at the prospect that things could get better here soon. Plus healthcare workers, who have been traumatized and overworked caring for covid patients, might get some relief.

*Thanks to Dr. Stella on TikTok for making me aware of the other coronavirus treatments in the pipeline.

Photos credit: Laura James and JEShoots on Pexels and Bermix Studio on Unsplash

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