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COVID-19 Pills Are Being Tested & Here's How They Work

Think of them as morning after exposure pills.

COVID-19 Pills Are Being Tested & Here's How They Work

What if you didn't have to worry about getting super sick with COVID-19? What if you could just take a pill at the first sign of infection, and then move on with your day?

That's the dream behind a new wave of drugs that are being tested right now, as three big pharma companies appear to be closing in on a morning after COVID pill that you can take at home.

The pills are designed to take COVID out at the knees so that it can't run wild and replicate itself inside a person's body. Fewer viruses mean you get less sick and your chances of survival get better. Everyone wins (unless you're a coronavirus).

The pills would be the first thing you take after being exposed to COVID. They're not meant to replace vaccines, which you're expected to get before exposure. Instead, the pills would help prevent a breakthrough infection, especially when it comes to newer variants.

Merck claimed to be the winner of the COVID pill race on Friday when it announced that it'll seek U.S. government approval for a drug called molnupiravir. Patients would take eight pills a day for five days after exposure, The Associated Press reports.*

Merck says the pill cut the risk of hospitalization and death in half when it was given to high-risk patients shortly after they were infected. That's kind of a big deal because most treatments for COVID are given after you're already sick in the hospital.

Pfizer and a joint venture by Roche and Atea Pharmaceuticals also claim to be having success with early-infection pills. Both of those pills are still at the trial stage, but things are reportedly going well.

That's all good news for a pandemic-weary world, even if it might take some time for those pills to show up on store shelves.

The only FDA-approved antiviral treatment for COVID-19 right now is remdesivir, and that's delivered via IV. Monoclonal antibody treatments also work really well, but those are expensive and hard to come by for many people. Both are harder to take than a pill.

It's worth pointing out that Merck's new pill does not contain ivermectin, a drug that's become popular among conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers in recent months.

Merck makes ivermectin to fight parasites, but the company said back in February that there is "no scientific basis" for using it against COVID-19.

In other words, Merck might have a new weapon against COVID-19, but it's not the one that conspiracy theorists are talking about.

*This article has been updated.

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