Valley Health says Merck COVID pill could be useful in fight against virus

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 9:44 PM EST
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WINCHESTER, Va. (WHSV) - Members of the FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee will meet on Tuesday to decide whether to authorize emergency use of Merck’s COVID-19 treatment pill.

If approved it will become the first anti-viral COVID medication in the U.S. The drug would treat the symptoms of those who have contracted COVID-19 to reduce the risk of hospitalization or death.

“They work on the virus itself by inhibiting an enzyme in the virus that the virus needs to replicate, so much like flu medicines stop the flu by stopping the flu virus from replicating these are more traditional anti-viral medications that you would take a five day course of,” said Dr. Jeffery Feit, Population and Community Health Officer for Valley Health.

The FDA and Merck’s own studies have determined the pill to be effective in it’s treatment.

“If you take it within the first three days of becoming symptomatic in the Merck study it reduced people’s chances of being hospitalized or dying from about 14 percent to about 7 percent which is a 50 percent reduction and that’s obviously a very high risk population,” said Dr. Feit.

The pill would be most useful to those who are considered a high risk of a severe case of COVID-19.

“For a 75-year old who for whatever reason couldn’t get vaccinated and now has COVID and diabetes, that person is at really high risk to progress to severe illness and having a drug you could give them that keeps them out of the hospital and keeps them safe and helps them get better, that’s what we’ve all been waiting for,” said Dr. Feit.

During their meeting on Tuesday, the advisory committee will determine whether or not the drug’s benefits outweigh its risks.

There have been no significant side effects in trials, but FDA scientists say it could pose a risk to pregnant women after birth defects were identified in studies of the pill in animals.

The drug will not be made available to pregnant women or children.

If the drug is approved, Valley Health says it could be a valuable tool in the ongoing fight against COVID and could bring us one step closer to returning to a normal world.

“Part of any pandemic is the ratcheting down of risk, and each new tool we have, each new treatment we get reduces the risk of someone becoming ill and dying,” said Dr. Feit.

Dr. Feit stresses that while the drug will be helpful, getting vaccinated remains the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19.

Pfizer has also been working on a COVID treatment drug that will likely go to the FDA for authorization next month, it’s early trials have shown it to be even more effective than the Merck pill.

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