Accurate, fast testing key to COVID-19 pills' success, medical experts say

The success of the two COVID-19 antiviral pills under FDA review is contingent upon high risk patients' ability to be tested quickly and accurately, medical experts told Kaiser Health News Nov. 22.

On Oct. 11, Merck applied for FDA emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 pill molnupiravir. On Nov. 16, Pfizer applied for FDA emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid. Both companies say the trial data for their respective pills shows they significantly reduce the risk of hospitalization and death.

FDA approval for these drugs is highly anticipated, but experts say patients will benefit from them only if COVID-19 cases can be identified quickly. The positive results recorded during the drugs' clinical trials assume the pills can be administered within a few days of infection.

In Merck's clinical trial, molnupiravir was administered within five days of a patient's first COVID-19 symptoms. In Pfizer's trial, Paxlovid was administered as early as three days after symptoms appeared.

"Early, accessible testing and access to the results in a time frame that allows us to make a decision is really going to be key to these medications," Erica Johnson, MD, chair of the American Board of Internal Medicine's infectious disease board, told Kaiser Health News. "It puts the onus on our public health strategy to make these available."


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