A day after approving Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted emergency use authority to a similar pill produced by Merck.
Called molnupiravir, the drug could be given to high-risk adults once they show initial symptoms of the coronavirus. The drug is not approved for those under 18 because of concerns about bone and cartilage growth.
The FDA said that of those given the Merck pill, only 7% were hospitalized, compared to 10% who took a placebo. One person died over the 30-day period compared to nine who took the placebo.
The drug works by inserting errors into the coronavirus’s genetic code, which makes it harder to reproduce.
Molnupiravir is reportedly only one-third as effective as the Pfizer drug, Paxlovid.
The drug will carry a warning against use while pregnant.
For those reasons, the Pfizer pill is likely to be used much more.
"To the extent that there's an ample supply of Pfizer's pill, I think it won't be used," Dr. Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic told The Associated Press, referencing Merck’s drug. "There would be no reason, given it has less efficacy and a higher risk of side effects."
Both pills are said to be effective against the relatively mild omicron variant of the coronavirus currently spreading across the globe.
The U.S. government will buy enough of the Merck pill to treat 3.1 million people. A course of the drug requires patients to take four pills twice a day for five days. A course costs $700.
Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press.