US coronavirus: Antiviral pills could be a game changer, but vaccines are still America’s way out of the pandemic, experts say
“This can be used with a vaccine. It’s not a substitute for vaccination. We still have to try to vaccinate more people,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told CNN Friday. .
Gottlieb acknowledged that the antiviral drug can be effective for those who choose not to be vaccinated as well as those who contract the virus during a full vaccination.
“This is the most impactful finding I can remember when I saw a drug available orally in treating a respiratory ailment, perhaps ever,” Gottlieb told CNN reporter Anderson Cooper. “I think having an oral pill that can block the replication of the virus – which can prevent this virus – would be a real game-changer.”
Merck said Friday that it will seek emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for molnopiravir “as soon as possible.” If allowed, it would become the first oral drug to fight the viral infection of Covid-19.
“If it is approved, I think the right way to think about this is a potential additional tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid,” Jeff Zentes, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said Friday.
Echoing Gottlieb’s position on vaccination, Zients emphasized that vaccination remains “the best tool we have against Covid-19” because the shots can prevent people from becoming infected in the first place.
“We want to prevent infection, not wait to treat it as soon as it happens,” Zenz said.
Meanwhile, Louisiana reported Friday that a child aged four or younger died of Covid-19. This was the 17th child death with the virus.
“We owe it to ourselves, our children, and everyone around us to have the best protection we have, and that is the vaccine and the wearing of a mask,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana State Health Officer.
More enhanced conversations to come
Americans who have received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines can expect to hear the next steps for the booster shots this month.
The FDA will meet with the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on October 14 and 15 to discuss boosters for those vaccines, which are authorized for emergency use only for those 18 years of age or older. On Friday, the agency said the panel would also look at data on “mix-and-match” use of boosters.
The only two-dose Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine has been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people 12 years of age or older. Pfizer’s booster vaccine is approved for emergency use in people 65 years of age or older, people at risk of serious illness and people whose occupations put them at risk.
More than 4.03 million people have received an extra dose of the Covid-19 vaccine – or booster vaccine – since August 13.
The US Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine committee is also scheduled to discuss Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 on October 26. Pfizer has begun providing data about this age group to the agency but has not formally requested emergency use authorization.
The panel of independent advisors typically discusses and makes recommendations to the Food and Drug Administration regarding vaccine authorizations and approvals. Then the agency makes the final decision.
Vaccine mandates are still playing out
On Friday, American Airlines told its American workers that they must follow the Biden administration’s requirements for vaccination against Covid-19. The airline indicated that its business with the federal government meant it would be covered under the mandate but failed to say when the requirement would take effect.
The airline said religious and disability waivers would be available, but that there would be “no substitute for regular testing.”
“While we are still working through the details of the federal requirements, it is clear that team members who choose not to be vaccinated will not be able to work for American Airlines,” according to a memo obtained by CNN from airline management that sent to employees.
“This is not an authorization because non-working spouses and home partners can choose a health plan outside of Ochsner Health’s offerings. As with our employee vaccination policy, spouses and local partners who have medical and religious objections will be able to file waiver requests,” said Ochsner Health’s president and CEO, Warner Thomas, in a statement this week.
CNN’s Naomi Thomas, Virginia Langmaid, Jimmy Gombrecht, Gregory Wallace, Rebecca Reiss and Lauren Mascarenas contributed to this report.