DENVER (KDVR) – On Monday, Merck asked the FDA to authorize the use of a pill to treat COVID-19. It would be the first of its kind and could help bring down the number of hospitalizations.
Merck is asking for emergency use authorization for patients at high risk. That includes patients with other conditions, older patients and people who are immunosuppressed. Merck data shows the antiviral pills can reduce the risk of severe illness and hospitalization by 50%.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Chief Medical Officer at National Jewish Health in Denver, Dr. Carrie Horn said.
Horn said right now the only outpatient therapy available is an infusion of monoclonal antibodies, and that requires a trip to a facility. If approved, pills would be much easier.
“Having an oral therapy where people could either get it even mailed to their house, or pick it up from the pharmacy, or from their doctor’s office is a great improvement in treating COVID-19 before people get really sick,” Horn said.
They key, she said, is that patients need treatment early.
“It has to be within the first, ideally, five days of onset of symptoms,” Horn said.
Dr. James Neid, the Director of Infection Prevention at the Medical Center of Aurora agrees, the sooner the better.
“I think that’s the challenge, is most people don’t hit the alarm bells and don’t go see a doctor in the first day or two,” Neid said.
He told FOX31 people should continue with cautions if they can wait for more information.
“I think there’s a lot that we still don’t know about the pill,” Neid said.
The FDA will look at safety and effectiveness of the pills before making its decision.
Neid said it would be great to have another tool in the COVID toolbox, but vaccination is still the best option.
“That remains the message is that the vaccination is the way out of the pandemic. I doubt any of these other methods will be,” he said.