Doctors say the pill is not a replacement for the vaccine or any other means to prevent COVID-19.By Bryant Reed

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Drugmaker Merck said it has come up with a pill to fight COVID-19 that cuts the risk of hospitalization or death in half for people who already have it.

If approved by the FDA for emergency use, molnupiravir would be the first oral medicine for COVID-19.

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It is not a vaccine, rather a medicine taken after somebody already contracts the virus.

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“This data is very promising,” said Allegheny Health Network’s Division Chair of Pulmonary Care and Sleep Medicine Dr. Tariq Cheema. “To have a 50 percent reduction in mortality and hospitalizations is a game-changer.”

A lot of doctors agree, but what exactly does the pill do?

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“It’s always nice to have an added drug that actually has activity against the virus itself,” said Dr. Ghady Haidar, an infectious disease physician at UPMC. “That’s how this drug works. It prevents the SARS-CV2 virus from dividing.”

The pill would be taken twice a day for five days. But what is the difference between the pill and the vaccine?

“The vaccination itself is not a medication, it’s not a virus. It’s a way for us to induce an immune response in the system,” Dr. Cheema said. “The antiviral medication is different. If you already have the virus in your body, this medication will go and fight against the virus itself directly. The purpose is to kill the virus and get it out of your system.”

However, both doctors said the pill is not a replacement for the vaccine or any other means to prevent COVID-19.

“Vaccines remain the optimal way to prevent infection, prevent severe infection and death,” Dr. Haidar said. “I do not think anyone should consider that an added therapy to prevent COVID-19 can replace a proven therapy to prevent COVID-19.”

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Merck trials have been stopped for the time being because of the tremendous success they’ve already seen. Now they have to go through the process of getting the pill FDA approved. Doctor Cheema believes that could be as soon as sometime early next year.