NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Two pills have been granted an Emergency Use Authorization by the FDA. Both have proven to reduce the possibility of serious illness requiring hospitalization as a wave of omicron variant infections spread through the country.
“The Merck product reduces that by 30%. The Pfizer product, at least it’s reported, to reduce that by almost 90%,” said Tennessee Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Peircey.
Local doctors are encouraged by the news that now people have access to preventive medicine in the form of vaccines and at-home therapy in the form of these series of pills.
“It’s a one-two punch that would further reduce the risk of serious illness,” explains infectious disease doctor, William Schaffner.
While the hope is these treatments will help alleviate strain on healthcare systems during an expected wave of COVID cases following the holidays, it’s important to note the pills have not been approved for use in everyone.
The FDA cleared the Pfizer pill for patients 12 and up with mild to moderate COVID who are most likely to end up hospitalized.
The Merck pill is cleared for adults 18 and older who have tested positive for the virus and are considered high-risk. The Merck product is not approved for patients younger than 18 as it may affect bone and cartilage growth in that age group.
And there’s another warning.
“There’s concern about pregnant women,” said Schaffner.
The Merck pill is not recommended for pregnant patients as findings from animal reproduction studies showed it may cause fetal harm. In knowing this, Merck did not include pregnant women in clinical trials.
The state expects shipments of at least one, possibly both, products in January.
“We know we’re going to be getting about 2% of the nation’s supply. That could be as little as a couple of thousand supply of sources,” Dr. Piercey explained.
The pills will be supplied through a big-box pharmacy chain, although the state hasn’t announced which one.
“It is our goal to have it equally distrusted across the state where everyone regardless of social status can access it if they are high risk,” said Dr. Piercey.