Belgium orders 20,000 Covid-19 pills for serious symptoms

Belgium orders 20,000 Covid-19 pills for serious symptoms
The Merck Covid-19 pill. Credit: Merck

On Monday, Belgium finalised deals to buy 20,000 Covid-19 pills for at-home treatment from two different manufacturers in light of the new rapidly spreading Omicron variant.

The pills, which alleviate serious coronavirus symptoms, are being developed by two brands: Molnupiravir by Merck and Paxlovid by Pfizer. Belgium has agreed to buy 10,000 of each following discussions with both companies, De Standaard reports, although the price has yet to be disclosed publicly.

Antiviral pills have been hailed as a low-cost solution to tackle the pandemic globally, especially in developing countries where the vaccine rollout is slower or where the access to the vaccines is limited.

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) rolling review of the Pfizer Covid-19 pill, which reportedly reduces the risk of hospitalisation or death from a coronavirus infection by 89% if taken within three days of the first symptoms, is ongoing.

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At the end of December 2021, the EU medicines regulator authorised Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill for emergency use, stating that it “can be used to treat adults with COVID-19 who do not require additional oxygen and who are at increased risk of developing severe disease.”

It added that Paxlovid should be administered as soon as possible after a coronavirus diagnosis and within five days of the start of symptoms.

Merck’s lower efficacy

The same EMA advice was issued for Merck’s Molnupiravir, which is not currently authorised in the EU. According to the EMA, it can be used in similar circumstances to the Paxlovid pill.

However, the EMA is reviewing new data which showed that the antiviral pill decreased the risk of hospitalisation by 30% — down from a 50% reduction observed in an earlier clinical trial.

The Merck pill did receive approval from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at the end of December, with the agency stressing that the approval of the Covid-19 pills is an important step in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

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