The Merck laboratory’s COVID-19 pill, intended for high-risk adults, was urgently authorized Thursday by the United States Medicines Agency (FDA), the day after the authorization of a similar pill developed by Pfizer.
“Today’s authorization adds a new treatment for COVID-19, in the form of a pill that can be taken orally,” said FDA official Patrizia Cavazzoni.
Medically developed by Merck, a laboratory known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada, can be taken within five days of onset of symptoms, and reduces the risk of hospitalization and death by 30 % among the fragile population.
On Wednesday, the FDA cleared Pfizer’s treatment, marketed as Paxlovid, which reduces that same risk by 90%, according to early studies.
The Pfizer pill is a combination of two pills taken twice a day for five days. This pill may be given to high risk patients aged 12 years and over.
Merck’s treatment, called molnupiravir, is given with eight doses per day for five days.
It works by entering the genome of the virus to cause mutations that limit its reproduction.
In its press release, the FDA insists that these two treatments are complementary to the vaccine, which must remain the main tool in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
While clinical trials have not detected any major risks to patients for the two drugs, Merck’s was of more concern.
The United States Medicines Agency has not approved the Merck pill for children under the age of 18 because it could affect bone and cartilage development.
It is also not recommended for pregnant women, due to the potential risk to the fetus, but doctors can ignore it if the benefits outweigh the risks.
The United States bought 3.1 million Merck treatments and 10 million of Pfizer’s.
The country faces, two days before Christmas, the rapid advance of the Omicron variant, now the majority in the United States.