COVID-19 treatment pills could arrive in weeks, here’s what you should know

Coronavirus

This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows their new antiviral medication. The drugmaker has said its experimental pill for people sick with COVID-19 reduced hospitalizations and deaths. (Merck & Co. via AP)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A pill to treat COVID-19 could potentially be in pharmacies by the end of the year. Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced its antiviral pill, molnupiravir, could cut hospitalizations in half.

The pill-makers said it treats mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in adults who have tested positive for the disease, and who are at high risk for progression to severe infection.

The FDA has scheduled a meeting of its Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee on Nov. 30 to discuss the antiviral. That means the pill could be available in local pharmacies in early December.

If approved, this could be the first oral treatment for COVID-19.

Right now, the only option is an intravenous treatment that requires patients to sit in a treatment center for about an hour.

While the raw data for Merck’s U.S. trials have not been released yet, there was data available from its U.K. trials. The U.K. has already approved the pill for use. Common side effects were said to impact one in 10 people. Those side effects included:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Headache

More uncommon side effects affecting one in every 100 people included:

  • Vomiting
  • Rash
  • Hives

Merck was not the only company developing a pill.

Pfizer announced its treatment pill, PAXLOVID, was 89 percent effective in cutting hospitalization and death rates in high-risk adults. It said fewer than one percent of trial patients taking the treatment ended up in the hospital. Pfizer said no trial participants died

Pfizer said it stopped its trial early because of the “overwhelming efficacy demonstrated.”

Pfizer said 19 percent of people who got the pill in the trials had mild side effects. It said serious side effects were seen in less than 2 percent of people. Pfizer has not disclosed what any of those side effects were.

No word yet on when the FDA will hold a meeting concerning Pfizer’s pill.

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