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Merck’s COVID pill may be here soon. What can we expect?

Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 4:18 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 8, 2021 at 5:26 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont is still in the early stages of making available a COVID treatment pill from Merck following an FDA advisory panel’s approval last week of the drug for emergency use. Melissa Cooney reports on what this could mean in the fight against COVID.

“Absolutely, would take it in a minute,” said Nancy Pollack of South Burlington.

“I wouldn’t take it. I haven’t even gotten vaccinated yet so I don’t know,” said Brian Stephens, a visitor from Florida.

Conflicting views on the new anti-viral pill called Molnupiravir after an FDA advisory panel narrowly approved the drug on Tuesday.

The UVM Medical Center’s Dr. Timothy Lahey says the pill is designed to be taken by those who have mild to severe COVID symptoms but are at risk of more severe illness that could lead to hospitalization or death. “If you’re really sick in the hospital, it’s not the right treatment for you. If you’re at high risk and want a lower chance of ending up in the hospital, {Molnupiravir} might be the right thing for you,” he said.

Merck studies show the pill reduces the chance of hospitalization by 30%.

“In terms of this being a miracle drug where COVID is behind us now - that’s not the case,” said Ryan Quinn, a pharmacist at Lakeside Pharmacy in Burlington. He says he hopes the rollout of this pill will pave the way for more treatments that will be even more effective in preventing severe illness. “This is the first of many to come, that’s just what it is. It’s the first, not the best.”

And Leahy stresses the treatment is also not a replacement for getting vaccinated.

But as Vermont hospitals fear they will soon approach capacity, state epidemiologist Patsy Kelso says this treatment could help ease that burden. “Every little bit of help is important. If we can reduce hospitalizations by half or 30%, that does a great deal at protecting the health care system and protecting Vermonters,” she said.

Lahey also says they are still waiting on the exact number of doses Vermont will receive. The state is already working with pharmacies and hospitals and expects doses to be in place and details to be available for those eligible later this month.

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