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Updated on: Thursday, December 23, 2021, 08:20 PM IST

US: FDA authorizes Merck's COVID-19 oral antiviral pill

This comes a day after, U.S. health regulators on Wednesday authorised the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug that Americans will be able to take at home to head off the worst effects of the virus.
FDA authorizes Merck's COVID-19 oral antiviral pill | AFP Photo

FDA authorizes Merck's COVID-19 oral antiviral pill | AFP Photo

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The FDA has authorized Merck's COVID-19 oral antiviral pill, Reuters reported.

Late last month, Merck said that its pill reduced hospitalisations and deaths by 30% in high-risk adults.

This comes a day after, U.S. health regulators on Wednesday authorised the first pill against COVID-19, a Pfizer drug that Americans will be able to take at home to head off the worst effects of the virus.

The long-awaited milestone comes as U.S. cases, hospitalisations and deaths are all rising and health officials warn of a tsunami of new infections from the omicron variant that could overwhelm hospitals.

The pills from both Pfizer and Merck are expected to be effective against omicron because they don't target the spike protein where most of the variant's worrisome mutations reside.

Pfizer currently has 180,000 treatment courses available worldwide, with roughly 60,000 to 70,000 allocated to the U.S. Federal health officials are expected to ration early shipments to the hardest hit parts of the country. Pfizer said the small supply is due to the manufacturing time - currently about nine months. The company says it can halve production time next year.

The U.S. government has agreed to purchase enough Paxlovid to treat 10 million people. Pfizer says it's on track to produce 80 million courses globally next year, under contracts with the U.K., Australia and other nations.

Health experts agree that vaccination remains the best way to protect against COVID-19. But with roughly 40 million American adults still unvaccinated, effective drugs will be critical to blunting the current and future waves of infection.

The U.S. is now reporting more than 140,000 new infections daily and federal officials warn that the omicron variant could send case counts soaring. Omicron has already whipped across the country to become the dominant strain, federal officials confirmed earlier this week.

Against that backdrop, experts warn that Paxlovid's initial impact could be limited.

For more than a year, biotech-engineered antibody drugs have been the go-to treatments for COVID-19. But they are expensive, hard to produce and require an injection or infusion, typically given at a hospital or clinic. Also, laboratory testing suggests the two leading antibody drugs used in the U.S. aren't effective against omicron.

(With inputs from agencies)

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Published on: Thursday, December 23, 2021, 08:20 PM IST
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