The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved a second home-use antiviral pill to treat COVID-19. Approval for the drug, called molnupiravir, came a day after the agency signed on to Pfizer’s antiviral COVID-19, called Paxlovid. Both drugs reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in people diagnosed with COVID-19 and at risk of a severe case of the disease.
Molnupiravir, made by pharmaceutical company Merck, is approved for people 18 years and older who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill if they contract the coronavirus. It’s a higher age limit than Paxlovid, which is cleared for people ages 12 and older because molnupiravir can affect bone and cartilage growth, the FDA said in a statement.
Like Paxlovid, patients must start taking Merck’s drug within a few days of developing symptoms for it to be most effective. That can be difficult in the United States, where testing to confirm someone has COVID-19 is often slow and limited — especially during peaks in cases when treatments are most needed.
In a clinical study, molnupiravir initially appeared to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by about half. However, additional evaluation found it to be only about 30 percent effective. That’s much less effective than Paxlovid, which reduced hospitalizations and deaths for high-risk groups by 89 percent in a clinical trial.
Despite the lower efficacy, the US may be dependent on molnupiravir for the foreseeable future — the Biden administration expects to have 3 million courses of the Merck drug available by the end of January, but only 265,000 courses of Paxlovid. The federal government began allocating Paxlovid courses to states after its approval yesterday.