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Op-Ed: Hey, world — Merck antiviral capsule could be a good permanent global defense against COVID

The world is missing a very useful trick here.

Merck seeks FDA authorization for Covid treatment pill
Capsules of the experimental anti-Covid drug molnupiravir, for which Merck is seeking emergency use authorization in the US - Copyright AFP Peter PARKS
Capsules of the experimental anti-Covid drug molnupiravir, for which Merck is seeking emergency use authorization in the US - Copyright AFP Peter PARKS

Merck’s “pill” (it’s actually a capsule) is currently languishing in the global decision-making process. The current thinking is that it’d be great for countries which “can’t afford” vaccines. The world is missing a very useful trick here.

Note: The Merck treatment is designed for people who have tested positive for COVID. It’s not a “vaccination alternative”. It is, however, a very promising line of treatment for those infected. More to the point – Idiot anti-vaxxers could probably be persuaded to take it (you genius saints, you) and stop spreading the virus.

There’s a much bigger achievement to be had with this option – A useful all-rounder for ongoing maintenance of COVID worldwide. The trouble with the vax rollout has been based on logistics, affordability, and of course distribution.

The vax is definitely working, but it’s a high-maintenance, resources-intensive, operation. It’s also not that affordable, and many countries are still way behind the eight ball in terms of vaccine rates. Add to this the fact that nobody’s too sure what a new strain of COVID might do, and what sort of vax response will be required.

The logic here is OK-ish, but not visualizing some much better options. Merck’s capsule could make managing COVID a whole lot easier and cheaper. It could also save a lot of lives and end the risk of the very nasty “long COVID”.

Background

The story with the Merck approach is interesting and informative. Merck’s  molnupiravir is one of a class of drugs that prevent replication and “transcription” of viral genes. If that sounds like a great way to shut down a rampaging virus, it is. This option can throw a very significant spanner into the major threat of COVID, its dangerously high replication and mutation rate.

To explain – A virus that uses humans for transmission can replicate and spread at incredible rates, as we’ve seen. Therefore, shutting down replication doesn’t just cure/mitigate the effects of COVID on patients; it effectively stops the spread. The vaccines don’t do that. To be able to do this with a relatively cheap, storable at room temperature, easy to distribute oral treatment is almost unbelievably useful.

A global approach

The vax process has been effective, but it’s been painfully slow and complex in many ways. This virus spreads fast, and response times do matter in controlling the spread.

A good global option would be:

  • Easily accessible testing.
  • Local treatments available for infected people ASAP with minimal logistic issues, delays and costs.
  • No added pressure on medical services.
  • Global distribution so it’s accessible anywhere on Earth as a working option to stop spread.

Given the unbelievable level of social and political irresponsibility in response to the pandemic, an idiot-proof option definitely IS necessary. This is probably the simplest, best, option. You can’t stop people from being naïve trusting morons, but you can stop them from spreading this damn virus.

Merck’s approach is definitely a useful all-round and very doable way of managing COVID long-term in any environment. Governments should be funding this and epidemiological trials to see the impact on spread should be under way ASAP.

Let’s not wait for the virus to dictate the next couple of years. It’s getting very samey.  

Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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