Here’s what you need to know about the new COVID-19 pill that will arrive in Singapore once approved

by Vera

It’s quite the fever dream we live in now — we literally watched COVID-19 develop from patient zero, saw it spread rapidly globally, and now, we’ve also witnessed history being made with the breakthrough of mRNA vaccines and now, a pill that holds much promise in treating COVID-19 and its variants.

With Singapore putting in a purchase agreement for the drug, we might have access to Molnupiravir as soon as it clears the authorisation and approval for use, said MSD in an announcement today (6 October).

COVID-19 pills
Photo: Merck & Co.

If what’s on your mind now is doubt and skepticism, we don’t blame you. As with all new technology, it’s definitely wise to proceed with caution. And the best way to do that is to be kept in the know about as much information as possible regarding the new pill. Here are some of your questions answered, and information good to have on hand when the drug eventually reaches our shores.

Is it effective?

The antiviral pill is still considered experimental at this stage, but has shown great potential and was found to half the possibility of dying or hospitalisation for those most at risk of contracting severe COVID-19, in a late-stage study of adults with mild-to-moderate cases in its interim analysis of the Phase 3 study.

For some perspective, 385 patients received the drug, while 377 received a placebo. Out of the 385 patients who were administered the drugs, only 28 were hospitalised. On the other hand, 53 out of the latter group who received the placebo were hospitalised. By the 29th day, eight deaths were reported in the placebo group, while no deaths occured in the group that received the drug.

This drug was even effective against variants like Delta and Mu.

COVID-19 pill
Photo: Open Access Government

How does it work?

Let me try to break down the science for you. The antiviral drug takes advantage of the fact that viruses replicate inside a person’s cells which results in the sickness. Antivirals hence stop this replication process before it can progress any further.

The new Merck drug introduces RNA-like building blocks into the virus’s genome as it multiplies, creating mutation and disrupting the replication of SARS-CoV-2, and in turn, killing the virus.

This nips the problem in a bud before the person can become any sicker.

How is the pill administered?

The patients took four pills twice a day, or every 12 hours, for five days. The drug is an orally administered form of a potent ribonucleoside analog that inhibits the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19.

Photo: Seth Wenig/AP Photo

Are there any side effects?

In a statement by Merck, little information of side effects were included, but it did state that the rate of “adverse events” was similar between the treatment and placebo groups.

All in all, 1.3% of the molnupiravir-treated participants quit participation due to these effects, while 3.4% stopped taking the placebo.

The drug still awaits to be assessed in a larger study pool in order to ascertain its safety. Those involved in the trial, however, were asked to abstain from the use of contraception, as well as heterosexual sex.

Do I still need to take the vaccine in that case?

The vaccine still stands as the most effective form of protection against COVID-19. Think of it as a preventive measure, while the Molnupiravir pill comes as a cure.

The pill, however, might be particularly useful for the immunocompromised, for whom the vaccine yields less effectiveness.

You may read the full analysis by Merck here.

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