New COVID-19 pill is not a substitute for the vaccine, according to experts -- here's why

ByLuz Pena KGO logo
Tuesday, October 12, 2021
COVID pill is not vaccine substitute -- here's why
The pharmaceutical company Merck has requested FDA emergency authorization for their COVID-19 pill, named Molnupiravir.

The first pill shown to treat COVID-19 has moved one step closer to being available to the public.

The pharmaceutical company Merck requested FDA emergency authorization Monday for their COVID-19 antiviral pill, named Molnupiravir.

"The drug looks quite promising and it's actually a repurposed drug," said Dr. Nevan Krogan, Director of Quantitative Biosciences Institute at UCSF. "It was initially made to fight influenza and it actually targets an influenza protein that is similar to a protein in SARS-CoV-2."

According to the pharmaceutical trials involving 775 patients, the antiviral pill cuts hospitalizations and deaths by 50% among patients with early COVID-19 symptoms.

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Patients would need to take it within the first days of exposure.

"You take it by mouth kind of like Tamiflu it works to stop the virus from replicating in our bodies and that results in a reduce disease," said Dr. Deepak Srivastava President of the Gladstone Institutes

Dr. Deepak Srivastava, President of the Gladstone Institutes, and Dr. Nevan Krogan, Director of the Quantitative Biosciences Institute at UCSF, have teams of scientists researching a stronger outcome than 50% protection.

"I think in the future what we are going to need is a cocktail of drugs where you would have 2-3 that you are taking at once. This was the breakthrough with HIV you had multiple drugs in the cocktail," said Dr. Krogan.

At both labs scientists mix drugs previously approved for other diseases. Both experts agree this pill is not a substitute to the vaccine.

"Vaccinations will reduce your risk for hospitalization and death by 95 percent," said Dr. Srivastava. This pill will only do that at the rate of 50%. So, you are flipping a coin."

The FDA has been tasked with examining Merck's data. If authorized, a decision could come in a matter of weeks.

There's one concern the FDA will be tracking closely, according to Dr. Srivastava.

"There is a similar pill that is known to cause mutations in our DNA. Merck has studied that with their drug and it doesn't appear that they have seen a signal of that, but is something the FDA is considering."