(WFSB) - A new pill could cut COVID deaths in half.
Merck has asked the FDA for an emergency use authorization for its new pill. Merck is looking to get the first emergency use authorization for an oral treatment for COVID.
It is big, because patients can then take it from home, but will that get us out of the pandemic?
“I think an oral pill has the potential, certainly, to be more accessible and more convenient for patients,” Dr. David Banach of UConn Health Center noted.
Merck says it’s developed a pill that can cut not only COVID deaths in half, but hospitalizations as well.
We already have drugs that can treat COVID, so how is the Merck pill different?
“It doesn’t require hospitalization and it can be administered at home,” Dr. Banach explained.
Other treatments that have emergency use authorizations, like monoclonal antibodies, have to be administered by IV. Merck’s pill would be the first oral treatment.
“Four pills twice a day for five days,” Dr. Ulysses Wu of Hartford HealthCare says.
So who would this pill be for?
“This is not going to be an over the counter drug. You definitely will need a prescription for this,” said. Dr. Wu.
Doctors say it will likely be for people who face higher risk of serious COVID cases, those over sixty, or who have underlying conditions.
Some doctors have prescribed other oral medications to treat COVID, despite a lack of evidence showing them to be effective. So why is Merck seeking an emergency use authorization?
“As a prescriber, you know, I want to have that confidence that what I’m giving my patient has been thoroughly studied,” stated Dr. Banach.
Merck said Monday it is seeking US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization for its experimental antiviral Covid-19 treatment, molnupiravir.
While Merck’s pill is creating optimism, doctors say the vaccine is still the best tool against COVID.
“I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, because there’s a pill out there, that’s going to treat me. I shouldn’t get my vaccination’,” Dr. Wu noted.
It reduces the risk of catching COVID and of spreading the virus. They also say Merck’s study focused on preventing death from COVID, not on reducing the risk of long COVID.
"It’s not actually a result of the COVID itself, but a result of what the COVID has done," Dr. Wu says.
Still, a pill that is easily available to patients would be a huge step in reducing COVID-related deaths.
Some doctors have prescribed other oral medications, despite a lack of evidence.
Many doctors say they’re waiting for a deeper review, like the one the FDA will give to the Merck pill.
"I think it’s so critical that we study these in really well done, stage three clinical trials to understand the benefits," Dr. Banach added.
Doctors say one question they still have is how vaccinated patients would respond to this pill.
Merck’s study focused largely on unvaccinated people.