Merck's COVID-19 pill gets U.S. authorization

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday authorized Merck's antiviral pill for COVID-19, a day after giving the go-ahead to a similar but more effective treatment from Pfizer.

AUIDO FROM FDA: "We want to remind people that these drugs are not substitutions for getting vaccinated."

On a call with reporters, the FDA said both pills also worked against the fast-spreading Omicron variant, which is now dominant in the United States.

AUDIO FROM FDA: "So the available data that we have indicates that both Paxlovid and Molnupiravir are effective against Omicron."

Merck's Molnupiravir, which is for treating mild-to-moderate COVID-19 in certain high-risk adult patients, was shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by around 30% in a clinical trial.

Pfizer's pill, Paxlovid, was authorized on Wednesday for people 12 and older, and clinical trial data showed it to be nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness.

AUDIO FROM FDA: "The oral medications authorized this week are designed to stop the virus from replicating, and can be prescribed for at-home use."

The FDA said Merck's COVID pill is not authorized for use in patients younger than 18 because it may affect bone and cartilage growth, and is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

The drug is meant to be taken twice a day - four pills each time - for five days, making a full course of treatment 40 pills.

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