BOISE, Idaho — As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to overwhelm Idaho's hospitals, Merck, the medical company that produces Ivermectin, announced Friday it has created an experimental pill that can potentially reduce hospitalizations and deaths from the virus in half.
If cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19.
In a trial, participants took four pills twice a day for five days. Merck said it reduced death and hospitalizations by half compared to those who had the virus and did not take the pill. All people that participated in the trial were unvaccinated.
The pill also doesn't require patients to be admitted to the hospital to receive it.
Merck also produces Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic that is mainly used on livestock and, in some cases, humans. The product's off-label use has skyrocketed in recent months by people who believe it will prevent the contraction of COVID-19. However, Merck's new pill should not be confused with Ivermectin.
"The fact that Ivermectin doesn't seem to work, but this drug is showing that it works, is not inconsistent at all," said Dr. David Pate, the former CEO of St. Luke's Health System. "They are completely different. They have different modes of action, how they actually cause the effect on biological agents."
If given emergency use authorization, Pate said the new pill will be a great benefit. While the results of the trials have been promising, Idaho medical experts do not believe this pill should take place of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"It's just again kind of a no-brainer," Pate said. "You want to get vaccinated, you don't want to be depending on these other things and frankly, we don't know how available they will be."
Pate said the new pill will likely need to be prescribed by a doctor. The cost of the treatment may also be a factor in how frequently it is used. The United States government pays up to $20 for a COVID-19 vaccine, but the new pill will cost more than $700.
While the federal government has already signed a deal to buy 1.7 million doses of the new pill, Pate does not believe everyone will be eligible for it.
"I will be very surprised if this is approved for children. I think that would be very unlikely. It also, by nature of the way that this works, it is probably pretty unlikely that it will be approved or authorized for pregnant women," he explained. "So there's going to be probably a lot of people who can't take this pill, but all of those can get vaccinated. All things considered, it should not be an either-or, everyone should get vaccinated."
Pate predicts the pill will reach Idaho by the end of November at the earliest.
At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.
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