Merck’s COVID-19 Antiviral Pill Is Second FDA Approved

Pfizer’s antiviral pill against COVID-19 will already have some competition in the US. As the Associated Press reports, the Food and Drug Administration has approved emergency use for Merck’s Molnupiravir pill. The treatment limits SARS-CoV-2 replication by inserting “errors” into the virus’s genetic code while an infection is relatively young, ideally preventing mild or moderate cases from becoming severe in high-risk patients.

However, the drug may not be used as widely as Pfizer’s Paxlovid. Merck’s offering will only be available to individuals 18 years of age or older instead of 12 for Pfizer’s, as there are concerns it could affect bone and cartilage development in younger patients. There are also warnings against use during pregnancy or while attempting to conceive — the FDA said people should use birth control both during and after treatment, with women waiting days and men waiting three months.

Molnupiravir also does not appear to be as effective as Paxlovid. While Pfizer’s solution reduced hospitalizations and deaths by as much as 90 percent, Merck only managed it 30 percent. This pill may become the secondary option, especially in situations where Paxlovid is not available. Both companies’ products are expected to remain effective against the Omicron variant of the virus, as they do not target mutating spike proteins.

Still, this could become another helpful tool to minimize hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19. Pfizer’s pill will be most readily available when the US orders enough to treat 10 million patients, but there will be enough of Merck’s drug to address 3.1 million patients. Even if its effectiveness is limited, it could save hundreds of thousands of people from the worst the disease has to offer.

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