Merck now has the go-ahead from the WHO.

The Organization on Wednesday recommended the pill against Covid-19 from the American laboratory Merck for patients with a mild form but who are at high risk of hospitalization.

Studied by a group of international WHO experts in the

British Medical Journal

, this treatment, called molnupiravir, is an antiviral that must be administered quickly after the onset of symptoms, and taken for five days to prevent the virus to replicate.

It is recommended for the unvaccinated, the elderly, the immunocompromised or people who suffer from chronic diseases.

On the other hand, "young and healthy patients, including children, and pregnant and breastfeeding women" should not take it, the WHO panel believes.

High costs

This opinion is based on new data from six randomized controlled trials involving 4,796 patients, the largest data set on this medicine to date.

The results of these trials suggest that molnupiravir reduces the risk of hospital admission (43 fewer admissions per 1,000 high-risk patients) and the time to resolution of symptoms (on average 3.4 days less) .

Less certainly, experts point to a weak effect on mortality (6 fewer deaths per 1,000 patients).

The WHO panel recognizes, however, that the cost and availability issues associated with molnupiravir may make it difficult to access in low- and middle-income countries and exacerbate health inequalities.

Experts also recommend a treatment combining Regeneron's monoclonal antibodies (casirivimab and imdevimab) only for people who are confirmed not to have been infected with the Omicron variant.

Indeed, these antibodies have proven to be ineffective against it.

Molnupiravir is the only pill against Covid-19 with Paxlovid from the American Pfizer.

But Merck's treatment raises more concerns than the latter when it comes to side effects.

The United States Medicines Agency, for example, has not authorized it for children under 18 because it could affect bone and cartilage development.


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