New antiviral pill provides flexibility in treating COVID-19

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Tuesday voted to recommend approval of a new antiviral pill to fight COVID-19. The recommendation was narrowly pushed through in a vote of 13 to 10. Physicians say the treatment will not be a wonder drug that ends the pandemic, but it is another tool that can be used to save lives.

“Any little assistance in the arsenal is appreciated,” said Dr. James Neid with The Medical Center of Aurora.

Neid is the director of infection prevention at the center. He said the new Merck pill, molnupiravir, attempts to trick the coronavirus into creating miscopies of itself. Another antiviral treatment, monoclonal antibodies, coats the virus to assist the immune system in eradicating the disease.

Neid said the efficacy of the latest treatment is not exactly where the medical community would want it to be.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Neid said. “I’m not sure that it’s going to be the be-all end-all.”

The drug is intended for those who are high risk– who are more likely to become seriously ill. It is not recommended for children or those who are pregnant.

“It should not dissuade anybody from doing what is well known to be successful, which is being vaccinated,” Neid said.

Physicians said it would be a mistake for anyone to avoid being vaccinated because they believe a pill will save them. COVID-19 treatments are only effective during specific time windows of viral replication.

“The vast majority of the time your window has kind of opened and shut before the antiviral even has a chance to do its best job,” Neid warned.

There are promising signs moving forward. Just as years of research and the latest treatments have been game-changers in the fight against HIV, scientists are also working on more effective treatments to push back against COVID-19.

“Now we’re just waiting for the best agent to come along that can be mass-produced and mass-distributed,” Neid said.

The FDA panel recommendation suggests there is no overwhelming risk to taking the drug. However, more of an accurate safety profile will be realized as more people take molnupiravir.

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