What you need to know about the new COVID-19 drugs

New oral medications may soon join the arsenal for COVID-19 treatments. A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory committee recently voted to recommend molnupiravir, a new antiviral pill made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, for emergency use authorization. The drug is intended to treat mild to moderate COVID-19. The FDA is also looking at a second antiviral pill made by Pfizer. The company is seeking emergency use authorization for its drug, Paxlovid.

Since 2020, about 10 drug and biological therapeutic products have been given emergency use authorization by the FDA. Currently, the only FDA-authorized treatments for non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients are monoclonal antibodies, which typically require intravenous infusion or injections. However, antiviral pills are cheaper to make and easier to distribute and take. They could be important for keeping COVID-19 in check and helping people recover from the early stages of the disease. If authorized, molnupiravir and Paxlovid would be the first oral treatments available for treatment for mild to moderate COVID-19 that is available outside a hospital setting.

How do the pills work?

Both pills prevent the virus from thriving in the body by targeting parts of its replication process. When the virus enters cells, it copies itself over and over to spread around its host’s body and potentially be transmitted to others. The virus will cause an immune response to combat the infection. However, sometimes the infection may be difficult for some people’s immune systems to fight. This can lead to a more severe infection or death. Disrupting virus replication and spreading buys more time for a person’s immune system to fight the infection before it becomes more difficult to manage.

According to a Merck study, molnupiravir reduces the chance of hospitalization and death in at-risk adults with COVID-19 by 30 percent when the pills are started within five days of symptom onset. In their study, Pfizer found that Paxlovid reduced the risks of hospitalizations and deaths by 89 percent when patients were treated within three days of symptom onset. In contrast, treatment with monoclonal antibodies reduces the risk of developing a severe COVID-19 infection by 70 to 85 percent. Both molnupiravir and Paxlovid are a series of pills taken twice daily for five days. Paxlovid is taken with ritonavir, an antiretroviral pill typically used to treat patients with HIV. The drug helps make Paxlovid more effective.

Prevention still important

The continual development of new treatments for people infected by COVID-19 is a positive as the pandemic nears its second year in America. However, successful treatment is not a guarantee for every person. Infection is still life-threatening for millions of people. This is especially true for older people, residents in long-term care settings and people with compromised immune systems or comorbidities that could put them at risk of hospitalization or death. The focus on prevention is important for protecting at-risk populations. The combination of following the recommended safety precautions and COVID-19 vaccination is vital for cutting off opportunities for transmission and slowing down the spread of the virus.

How can we help?

We all have an important part to play in hindering the pandemic’s impact on our country and protecting our most vulnerable citizens. Turenne PharMedCo Pharmacy Services encourages everyone eligible to consider vaccination and to educate themselves about the available vaccines from credible, evidence-based resources. In addition to our pharmacy offering antibody treatments, Turenne is also a vaccination provider. We have trained, immunization-certified pharmacists and nurses that can administer the vaccines at healthcare facilities. During the on-site clinics, we will vaccinate residents and staff. Click here to learn more about our vaccination service in Alabama and to complete a vaccine clinic request form. For convenience, a consent form for vaccine recipients and vaccine fact sheets from the FDA are available for download on our website. To request a clinic in Tennessee, call 1-866-710-7626.