Antiviral COVID pill may help immune systems ‘catch up’


Pharmaceutical company Merck has asked the FDA for emergency use authorization

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An antiviral drug may be able to treat COVID-19 much easier and quicker than monoclonal antibodies — but it’s not available to the public just yet.

Dr. Young Yoon Ham, an infectious disease pharmacist at Oregon Health & Science University, works on reviewing evidence of the virus as it becomes available. She believes the pill molnupiravir promises an intervention point COVID treatment.

Ham said the oral pill essentially interrupts the virus’ initial replication process.

“The hope is that if you can slow that process down because, you know, that initial infection — the viruses are replicating, making more copies of itself so quickly — if you can slow that down a little bit, you give your immune system a little bit of a chance to catch up.”

Ham said molnupiravir was originally created to treat a different viral infection but the pandemic has spurred efforts to examine the effectiveness of any medication with antiviral properties. Such was the case with remdesivir.

Molnupiravir hasn’t yet been authorized for human use. Pharmaceutical company Merck is seeking emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But Ham said even if the pill is authorized, making it easily available to the public won’t be easy.

“Very often the idea is great and it’s going to be a really valuable tool in the arsenal. But operationalizing these things is always more complicated,” she said.

Molnupiravir becomes less effective the longer a person has had COVID. Ham said clinical trials have only tested the pill’s effectiveness in people who have had COVID for five days or less.

“Chances are, if you’ve been sick for like a day or two, are you even going to go seek out treatment or anything? And then you have to get tested and then you have to wait for those test results to come back. So those five days actually get eaten up pretty quickly,” Ham said.

For now, Ham said the vaccine is the best protection against COVID.

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