Mercer Island MD: New accessible COVID treatment is ‘necessary step’

A new COVID-19 treatment is on the horizon. Drug manufacturer Merck’s COVID treatment— available in pill form— has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization.

The antiviral drug, molnupiravir, could be taken at home, reducing burden on hospitals as most current COVID intervention treatments require IV or injection.

Dr. Gordon Cohen appeared on KIRO Radio’s Seattle’s Morning News to break down Merck’s new medication, answer questions about its clinical trial period, and speak to how it might change the public health response to the COVID pandemic. He likened the drug to “Tamiflu” in terms of its potential easy consumer access and availability.

“All along, I thought that the answer wasn’t necessarily a vaccine, but rather a therapeutic first of all,” Cohen said. “Just by looking at our historic compliance with vaccines, especially the flu vaccine, it’s pretty poor. Annually, just under 40% of people get the flu vaccine.”

“Now there’s a therapeutic, and I’ve always thought that this would be what was ultimately necessary. You would need something that was inexpensive that could be taken at home, in a pill form, that would treat COVID. In fact, here it is. Merck has finally announced the development of the first of what will probably be a series of pills that will come out from different manufacturers.”

Merck asks US FDA to authorize promising anti-COVID pill

Cohen touched on the study to determine the medication’s efficacy: how the study was actually ended early because the drug was so effective that it was deemed unethical to give the control group a placebo. He touched on the drug’s significance within the context of its potential to treat COVID cases from those who refuse a vaccine.

“The interesting thing is that this entire group was unvaccinated people,” Cohen continued. “That’s part of the reason that there was necessity to end the study early.”

Cohen addressed a concern about COVID vaccines— that their development was fast in comparison to the traditional length at which vaccines are researched and produced— and how that same concern might apply to Merck’s treatment which itself had an expedited development period.

“This drug was specifically developed for COVID,” Cohen added. “Now the thing is that, [of] people who have been resistant to get the vaccine, one of the complaints has been, ‘the vaccine came out too fast, and it wasn’t studied on enough people, so who knows what’s going to happen.’ If they believe in what they’re saying about the vaccine, then they’re going to have the same complaint about this.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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