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UW Health expert weighs in on new pill to treat COVID-19

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Molnupiravir

Merck and Company's new pill to treat mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

MADISON (WKOW) -- Currently, patients at risk of hospitalization for COVID-19 are treated through infusions, but soon, they may have the option to take a round of pills at home instead.

This comes after drug maker Merck asked the FDA for emergency authorization of a pill called Molnupiravir that they say treats mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19.

"This is the first oral antiviral that we've seen for COVID-19," Dr. Jeff Pothof, Chief Quality Officer for UW Health said.

According to Pothof, clinical trials revealed that the pill dramatically reduced the symptoms of hospitalization for patients with early symptoms of COVID-19.

"If you are someone who may be high risk for needing hospitalization, that could reduce your risk of hospitalization by 50%," Pothof said.

Pothof explained that the pill works by targeting the part of the virus that helps it reproduce.

"Its kind of interesting how it works. It basically inserts scrambled letters into the virus' code for replication and renders it defunct," Pothof said.

If granted FDA approval, Pothof anticipates that the pill would be available a pharmacies, but it unsure if it will be covered under the Cares Act or by insurance, though he predicts it might be.

"If I was an insurer and I was weighing the cost of whatever this medication costs, versus, the tremendous cost associated with treating a member who is hospitalized in an ICU with COVID-19, the business plan would definitely support the oral medication versus having to cover an ICU stay in a hospital," Pothof said.

Even with this new drug, Pothof said vaccines are still the best defense against the virus.

"If you are thinking in your head: 'Well now that there's an oral pill that can decrease the chance that I get hospitalized, I don't think I'm going to go get the vaccine,' that's the wrong logic. You know, the vaccine is like the Ferrari in our battle against COVID-19. This is like the Ford Fusion. They are both better than walking, but given the choice you know, take the Ferrari," Pothof said.

If given the green light, Merck hopes the pill could be available for Americans later this year.

The company also said it would make the pill available globally.

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