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Could the Merck COVID-19 pill be a game-changer for this pandemic?

When taken during the first few days of infection, the drug could significantly reduce symptoms and cut your chance of going to the hospital in half.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Could the first-of-its-kind Merck COVID-19 pill be a game-changer for the pandemic? 

Right now, doctors have very limited ways to treat COVID-19. They've had to rely on repurposing drugs and therapies for other illnesses, which has led to mixed results. The Merck pill could change that. 

Let's connect the dots.

It's the first medicine specifically designed to fight COVID-19 that's gone through clinical trials. Merck and its partner, Ridgeback Biotherapeutic, have asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to authorize the pill for COVID-19 patients. All other FDA-backed treatments for COVID-19, like monoclonal antibody therapy, require an IV or injection. 

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Merck said early results showed patients who received the drug, called molnupiravir, within five days of COVID-19 symptoms had about half the rate of hospitalization and death as patients who received a dummy pill. The study tracked 775 adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who were considered higher risk for severe disease due to health problems such as obesity, diabetes or heart disease. The results have not been peer reviewed by outside experts, the usual procedure for vetting new medical research. 

If the pill is authorized, doctors say they could treat COVID-19 in a similar way to how they treat the flu. 

They could diagnose a patient and then send them on their way with a prescription. That means less strain on hospitals and an easier recovery for folks at home. 

Doctors want to be clear, the Merck pill is not a replacement for the vaccine. They say preventing a COVID-19 infection in the first place is still better than treating the symptoms later.

But the one-two punch of the vaccine and the Merck pill could go a long way toward putting this pandemic to bed. 

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