MURRAY – A small company owned by the pharmaceutical company Merck & Co Inc. is in the process of obtaining an emergency use authorization (EUA) for their pill Molnupiravir, which is what they call their COVID pill. 

“This pill is an antiviral (drug),” Dr. Bob Hughes, Village Medical’s national medical director for rural health and Murray State University’s chief medical officer, said. “And the interesting thing is that it treats all forms of the virus, variants or non-variants, because it attacks the cells rather than just the spikes.”

 The spikes that Hughes is referring to are the spikes that stick out of the COVID virus cell. 

Hughes further explained that the way the pill works is that there is a protein in the virus that makes it possible for the virus to replicate. The pill will hinder the ability for that protein to be made, causing the virus not to duplicate. 

Jeffrey Eye, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Murray-Calloway County Hospital, explained that the pill basically alters the virus’s DNA.

“The concern (is) if it is able to do that to viral DNA, then would it be possible to (alter) the human host DNA?,” asked Eye.

Hughes said that if he had to make an educated guess about the protein the virus makes, there’s probably not any DNA within humans that makes that same protein. Eye also said that in the Merck studies, there are not any mutagenic properties in the pill.

Hughes said that the pill was in a phase three study, meaning it was authorized for use in people, and that in the study there were no cases of hospitalizations or deaths. Eye pointed out that more people from the placebo group dropped out of the study than the group who actually received the pill. He also said that in the studies, Merck cautioned against having intercourse and women who are not on any contraception. Eye also believes that pregnant women and children will not be allowed to take the pill. He said that he suspects that there will be a narrow subset of people who will be able to take the pill at first and will probably be more for people who are high risk. 

Hughes explained that if the pill is approved for the EUA it will be four pills twice a day for five days. The cost of the pills would be $700 but, Hughes said that like the vaccines, the government might pay for it. 

Merck has reported that the effectiveness of the pill is 50%, while vaccines are around 94%. Both Hughes and Eye urge people to still get vaccinated and not wait for the pill. 

“It’s not going to be a wonder cure that suddenly means no one will have to be vaccinated,” Eye said.