FDA authorizes Merck’s COVID-19 antiviral pill

The decision came a day after Pfizer’s antiviral drug became the first of its kind to be authorized in the U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has authorized the emergency use of Merck’s antiviral pill for adults over the age of 18 who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are at high risk for severe disease. The decision comes a day after the agency authorized the emergency use of Pfizer’s antiviral pill for people 12 and older.

These drugs work by interfering with the virus’s genome as it multiples, creating mutations that disrupt replication and ultimately kill the virus. In clinical trials, Merck’s drug, called molnupiravir, was shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 30 percent. 

That is a drop in efficacy from Merck’s original announcement that people who took the pill were half as likely to be hospitalized or die than those who took the placebo. It’s also lower than the stated efficacy of Pfizer’s pill, which the company says reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent. It’s unclear how effective either drug will be against the new Omicron variant. 

The U.S. government has made a deal to purchase about 3.1 million courses of the treatment, most of which will be available by the end of January. The treatment is administered as four pills taken every 12 hours for five days. It should be started as soon as possible after a COVID-19 diagnosis and within five days of when a patient begins to show symptoms.

Stay up to date and read more on the latest COVID-19 developments here.

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