DAVE & DUJANOVIC

Utah doctor weighs in on new COVID-19 pill you can take at home

Dec 6, 2021, 4:53 PM
covid pill...
This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows their new antiviral medication. The drugmaker has said its experimental pill for people sick with COVID-19 reduced hospitalizations and deaths. (Merck & Co. via AP)
(Merck & Co. via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY — Could the world defeat the pandemic once and for all with a pill everyone could take at home — no doctor’s appointment, no needle necessary? A Utah doctor who specializes in infectious diseases gives her take on a new pill promising to do that.

Independent advisers to the FDA endorsed the pill — molnupiravir — in a 13-to-10 vote last week after voicing concerns about its low efficacy rate and potential risks to pregnant women.

The pill is not meant to replace vaccinations. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine was 94.1% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection in people who received two doses and had no evidence of being previously infected, according to the CDC.

“The vaccine is our first-line tool for preventing hospitalization, and I’m a little concerned that the attention on molnupiravir will draw attention away from vaccination,” says Yale Medicine infectious diseases specialist Dr. Jaimie Meyer.

Merck said the new pill is 30% effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in high-risk patients, down from the 50% efficacy that Merck announced in October, according to Financial Times.

The pill is meant to be taken after a person has experienced COVID-19 symptoms.

Carlos del Rio, an executive associate dean and infectious disease specialist at the Emory School of Medicine, said the pill “should work” against other variants because of how they stop the virus from replicating as reported by Politico.

The pill structure resembles the nucleosides — or chemical building blocks — used to make the virus’s RNA, which carries the genetic information of many viruses.

The doctor is in

Dr. Emily Spivak is an associate professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Utah Health. She joins KSL NewsRadio’s Debbie Dujanovic and Dave Noriega to talk about the pros and cons of the new pill.

“There are a lot of questions about the effectiveness or efficacy of the drug,” she said. “And that’s one of the reasons that the FDA advisory panel vote was split 13 to 10.”

Spivak pointed out the Merck pill is an anti-viral drug, not a monoclonal antibody in pill form. Some evidence suggests that monoclonal antibody treatment can reduce the amount of virus that causes COVID-19, according to the federal government website Combat Covid

“There is some preliminary evidence that it can incorporate into DNA and cause mutations, specifically in people who are of childbearing reproductive age,” Spivak said.

Proven to work

The new pill is similar to Tamiflu, an antiviral medication used to prevent serious flu symptoms, according to Yale Medicine.

“There’s at least more data in my opinion that Tamiflu actually works. We don’t have one clinical trial thus far for this Merck pill,” Spivak said. “[Tamiflu] doesn’t have these concerns, these really serious side effects — at most it usually makes people nauseated.”

The doctor said she would recommend monoclonal antibody treatment — instead of the Merck pill — for a patent who has risk factors for severe disease.

“At this point, I’m having a hard time thinking of somebody I would recommend the Merck pill for until we have more information.”

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard on weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play. 

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