US adds Merck pill as second at-home drug to combat Covid-19

Authorisation of Merck’s molnupiravir comes one day after agency cleared competing drug

Man Removing Pills From Bottle. Getty Images
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Live updates: follow the latest news on Covid-19 variant Omicron

US health regulators on Thursday authorised the second pill against Covid-19, providing another easy-to-use medication to battle the rising tide of Omicron infections.

The Food and Drug Administration's authorisation of Merck’s molnupiravir comes one day after the agency cleared a competing drug from Pfizer. That pill, Paxlovid, is likely to become the first-choice treatment against the virus, thanks to its superior benefits and milder side effects.

As a result, Merck’s pill is expected to have a smaller role in the pandemic than had been predicted a few weeks ago. Its ability to head off severe Covid-19 is much smaller than initially announced and the drug label will warn of serious safety issues, including the potential for birth defects.

The FDA authorised Merck’s drug for adults with early symptoms of Covid-19 who face the highest risks of hospital admission, including older people and those with conditions like obesity and heart disease. The UK first authorised the pill in early November.

Known as molnupiravir, the Merck drug will carry a warning against use during pregnancy. Women of childbearing age should use birth control during treatment and for a few days after while men should use birth control for at least three months after their final dose, the FDA said.

Updated: December 23, 2021, 3:50 PM