Pfizer and Merck Covid-19 Pills Are Coming Soon in the U.S., but Other Countries Will Have to Wait

Source: WSJ

By Jared S. Hopkins and Gabriele Steinhauser

Promising Covid-19 treatment pills are likely to take longer to reach patients in low- and middle-income countries than in rich ones because of manufacturing and pricing obstacles, despite efforts by drugmakers to make them more available, drug-access advocates and public-health experts say.

The pills promise to keep people who get infected from developing severe disease that requires hospitalization. They are already in use in the U.K. and nearing regulatory clearance in the U.S.

The medicines are set to play a central role in the world’s fight against Covid-19 and could become even more important if, as some scientists fear, vaccines turn out to be less effective against the new Omicron variant. Researchers say the pills are likely to be less affected by Omicron’s mutations than most leading Covid-19 vaccines.

Yet drug-access advocates and public-health experts express concern that the pills will arrive months later in poor countries and delay treating people, similar to the way the world’s vaccination campaign has left many in poor countries unvaccinated after wealthy governments bought much of the early supply.

Pfizer has said it can make about 80 million courses of its treatment, Paxlovid, by the end of next year. Merck says it can produce at least 30 million courses of its drug, molnupiravir, over the same period.

Most of the supply deals publicly announced have been for rich countries, including the U.K., which cleared molnupiravir for use in November. The U.S. has secured 10 million courses of Pfizer’s drug and 3.1 million of the Merck-Ridgeback therapy.

Courses are expected to become available in the U.S. shortly after clearance by the Food and Drug Administration, as early as this month.

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Categories: Health

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