BOSTON GLOBE – The first prescription pills to treat COVID-19 at home are expected to become available within weeks and will likely work against the worrisome Omicron variant, infectious disease specialists say, but they warn that the drugs come with significant drawbacks and shouldn’t be considered a substitute for vaccines.
Patients will need to start taking the pills within five days of the onset of symptoms ― which means getting a COVID test, diagnosis, and prescription quickly ― and must swallow 30 to 40 pills over five days. Those requirements could limit use of the medicines.
“As a clinician seeing patients, I want more tools in my toolbox,” said Dr. Lindsey Baden, an infectious disease expert at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
Baden chaired an independent panel of scientists that recently narrowly recommended that the Food and Drug Administration authorize the first drug for emergency use.
The new potential treatments would help prevent early COVID cases from progressing, Baden said, “but they are incremental ― they are not a panacea.”
The first of the pills, called molnupiravir, is an antiviral medication made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
An FDA advisory panel voted 13-10 on Nov. 30 to endorse its use. Baden voted with the majority, but opponents said they were unsure whether the drug’s benefits outweighed its risks.
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Molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 30 percent when taken within five days of symptom onset in a trial of unvaccinated patients with at least one risk factor for severe disease, in comparison with a placebo.
That marked a significant decline from an earlier analysis by Merck that indicated the drug lowered the risk by 50 percent.
The US government has paid about $2.2 billion for roughly 3.1 million courses of the treatment, each of which requires patients to take 40 doses … READ MORE.