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Ohio doctor says, while no substitute for vaccination, 'COVID pills' could keep thousands of patients out of hospital

A new anti-viral COVID drug, developed by Merck, is currently under review by the FDA. If it passes, it could go into emergency use authorization.

TOLEDO, Ohio — A little pill created by Pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck could mean thousands of COVID patients won't have to go to the hospital to receive treatment.

"The biggest advantage is, it's a pill, you can take it at home, and you don't have to be hospitalized to receive it," said Dr. Brian Kaminski, Vice President of Quality and Safety at Promedica. 

Kaminski says he's been keeping an eye on the development of this antiviral pill. He says the research he's seen so far is very promising.

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"They [Merck] just stopped the trial, and it's for good reasons, because the results look so promising and the safety profile does too," said Dr. Kaminski.

What separates the pill from the vaccine is the vaccine is preventative, while the pill will be used to treat people who already have COVID-19.

"The drug is an anti-viral drug. So what it does is it stops the virus from replicating or reproducing in the body; or at least slows it down to the point that the effects are minimized," said Dr. Kaminski.

While its effects will be beneficial, Dr. Kaminski warns that people shouldn't see the pill as a substitute to the vaccine and should still get vaccinated.

"It's efficacy is still less than that of the vaccine, and considerably so. So what the initial trials and the participants they had have shown us is that it reduces hospitalization and mortalities; so the people who receive serious disease in the hospital, and those that actually die from it - by about 50%. Which is wonderful but when you look at the effectiveness of the vaccine, it's actually far more effective than that," Dr. Kaminski explained.

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While no wonder drug, Dr. Kaminski says, the pill will help reduce the severity of the virus, which is an important step in the fight against COVID-19.

As for when we'll see it, he says that remains up in the air.

"Once the emergency use authorization goes into place, if there's enough production it will be available. And we don't know that yet, we don't know how available Merck will be able to make it by ramping up their production. And it will all depend on those things lining up just right."

Kaminski says, if it receives emergency use authorization, the drug will be one more tool in the toolbelt medical providers can use to treat COVID patients.

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