Merck Says It Has the First Antiviral Pill Found to Be Effective Against Covid

The drug maker Merck said on Friday that its pill to treat Covid-19 was shown in a key clinical trial to halve the risk of hospitalization or death when given to high-risk people early in their infections.

The strong results suggest that a new wave of effective and easy-to-use treatments for Covid will gradually become available in the United States, though supply is likely to be limited at first. Merck said it would seek emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its drug, known as molnupiravir, as soon as possible. The pills could be available by late this year.

Merck’s drug would be the first pill to treat Covid-19; it is likely to be followed by a number of other antiviral pills that other companies are racing to bring to market. They have the potential to reach more people than the antibody treatments that are being widely used in the United States for high-risk patients.

White House officials on Friday hailed the strong trial data, but they noted that the antiviral pills are no substitute for more Americans getting vaccinated. Despite the growing number of governments and companies mandating vaccines, only 56 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated.

“The right way to think about this is this is a potential additional tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid,” said Jeff Zients, a White House coronavirus adviser. Vaccination, he said, “remains far and away our best tool against Covid-19. It can prevent you from getting Covid in the first place, and we want to prevent infections — not just treat them when they happen.”

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