AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration green-lighted two oral anti-viral treatments for COVID-19, and Texas is already preparing to receive them.
The FDA approved Merck’s pill, molnupiravir, for people and 18 years and older who have mild-to-moderate COVID-19 and are high risk for severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death. The FDA also specifies this drug can only be used if other authorized treatment options aren’t accessible or appropriate
The approval follows another one by the FDA earlier this week, for Pfizer’s Paxlovid. It’s also an oral pill for those who have mild-to-moderate COVID-19 and are at risk for severe disease but can be used for patients ages 12 and up.
According to the U.S. government’s public health emergency page, the first shipments for both pills are set to go out by the end of the month, with Texas slated to receive 4,240 courses of Pfizer’s pill and nearly 19,800 of Merck’s pills.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of State Health Services said chain pharmacies in the Federal Retail Pharmacy Therapeutics Partner program, as well as independent-licensed pharmacies, will receive the pills.
Texas DSHS said it expects to have more information next week on which pharmacies in the state will get which pill and how much.
“Patients will need to be evaluated by and get a prescription from a physician or advanced practice registered nurse and have that filled at a pharmacy with stock available. We expect to have more information on those locations next week,” wrote DSHS spokesperson Chris Van Deusen.
The differences between the pills
“They both have the ability to interfere with the virus’ ability to replicate itself. The differences are the way in which it’s done,” said Dr. Faith Holmes, vice president of medical affairs at Elligo Health Research in Travis County.
Holmes helped work on both drugs and said Pfizer’s Paxlovid uses an enzyme to stop the coronavirus from replicating, while Merck’s molnupiravir embeds onto the coronavirus cell wall to stop it from replicating.
Besides the differences in ages approved for each drug, they also differ in efficacy.
Dr. Suneet Singh, medical director at CareHive, an Austin-based virtual care company, explained Pfizer’s showed about an 89% reduction in hospitalization rate, while Merck’s showed a roughly 30% reduction.
But having both options, Holmes said, is important.
“If someone has COVID, but they don’t have the ability to take that [Pfizer] drug because of a potential drug interaction with something else that they’re taking, then it’d be nice to be able to just reach into the cupboard and go to the Merck medication, because it doesn’t have that same side effect profile,” Holmes explained.
Why it’s important
Holmes also said these pills mark the first at-home COVID-19 treatments, something Singh calls a “gamechanger.”
“The fact that now we can talk about using the Pfizer pill versus the Merck pill, versus ‘is there a hospital need? Should we include monoclonal antibodies in your treatment regimen? When to seek care when to just continue to rest?'” Singh said. “Tailor the therapy that you provide to a patient for their individual circumstance.”
Singh is also an ER doctor and professor at Dell Medical School and said he’s seeing more patients between the flu, cold and COVID-19.
“Just when you think that we have turned a corner, we start to see an uptick,” he said.
He’s glad these drugs will soon be added to his arsenal.
“Just as soon as it comes to our community … it will be something that I intend to use and to prescribe, if it is right for the patient that I’m treating,” Singh said.