PM to ask the UK for Covid antiviral pills

Prime Minister Gaston Browne
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By Shermain Bique-Charles

[email protected]

Prime Minister Gaston Browne will write to the UK government today asking Britain to earmark a portion of the Merck Covid-19 antiviral pills for Caricom countries.

Britain granted conditional authorisation last Thursday for the world’s first pill designed to treat symptomatic Covid-19.

Developed by the US drug companies Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, it is the first antiviral medication for Covid which can be taken as a pill rather than injected or given intravenously.

The UK has agreed to purchase 480,000 courses with the first deliveries expected in November.

“On Monday I will be writing to the United Kingdom to ask them to secure some of the Merck pills for Caricom countries because they recently approved it,” Browne said on Saturday.

The prime minister is also closely monitoring another experimental antiviral pill to treat the virus manufactured by Pfizer, for which President Joe Biden said the US government has already secured millions of doses.

The medication, which could secure US approval by the end of this year, cuts by 89 percent the chance of hospitalisation or death of adults at risk of severe disease.

“We are hoping they will accelerate their testing and those pills will be made available on the market and we will be able to access those pills.

“I will also be writing to the United States president about that, asking them to make some available to Caricom when it becomes available,” he explained.

Browne said these letters will be written in his capacity as the chairman of Caricom.

The news about the new drugs is encouraging, Browne said, but he warned that it is risky for anyone to expose themselves to Covid and risk death.

He insists that vaccination is a more secure way to fight the illness, contending that eventually the deadly virus that has killed over 100 residents will be placed under control.

“That’s good news and we believe as time elapses, we will have more remedies and antivirals to treat Covid…but they [residents] should not wait until those antivirals become available because by then it might be too late,” Browne said.

The Merck pill was licenced for adults aged 18 and over who have tested positive for Covid-19 and have at least one risk factor for developing severe disease, such as obesity or heart disease.

Patients with mild to moderate Covid would take four pills of the drug, known as molnupiravir, twice a day for five days.

The US Food and Drug Administration announced last month that it would convene a panel of independent experts to scrutinise the pill’s safety and effectiveness in late November.

Merck has said it can produce 10 million treatment courses by the end of the year, but much of that supply has already been purchased by governments worldwide.

Meanwhile, the drugmaker Pfizer said on Friday that clinical trials of its experimental Covid-19 pill have been so successful in preventing people from becoming hospitalised or dying from the virus, that it’s stopping the studies early in the hope that the general public might benefit.

The antiviral pill, which is combined with a low dose of an HIV drug called ritonavir, can reduce hospitalisations or deaths from Covid-19 by up to 89 percent among high-risk patients, Pfizer said in a news release.

High-risk patients include the elderly, as well as people with underlying health conditions, such as obesity or type two diabetes.

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