Can I take the COVID-19 pill instead of the vaccine?

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This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows their new antiviral medication. Pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. said Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, that its experimental COVID-19 pill reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus and that it would soon ask health officials in the U.S. and around the world to authorize its use. (Merck & Co. via AP)

HUNTINGTON, WV (WOWK) – A new COVID-19 treatment option, a drug by Merck, was made known to the public in early October.  

It’s a way for patients to be able to fight the COVID-19 virus without being admitted to a hospital. But how does this new option compare to the vaccines?

What’s the difference between the pill and the vaccines?

“Hopefully you would not require that medication. What the medication does, is it treats COVID-19, but it does not prevent it,” said Dr. Sherri Young, the Health Officer for the Kanawha Charleston Health Department.

She said the difference between this new pill and the COVID-19 vaccine is that the vaccine is a prevention measure. “If you get the vaccine, your body will build antibodies that make you immune to COVID-19. That means that even if you get COVID-19, you’ll be able to better fight it off because your body will have antibodies to fight it,” says Young.  

The drug is now awaiting approval from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for Emergency Use Authorization, and Young said the FDA will also then determine which age group will be the first to receive the pill.  

Who will be given the pill first?

“What they’ll look at is the ages that were studied within the clinical trials… and doses and make that determination. I don’t think there will be any prioritization unless we’re in the middle of another surge – where we’re seeing high rights of deaths, especially in older adults. If it’s being used appropriately, it is meant to be an outpatient treatment, so it may not be based on age but it may be on certain risk factors or how sick a person is with COVID-19.”

She said the side effects from the clinical trials appear to be “well-tolerated,” and, the earlier you get treatment after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the sooner you will feel better. 

With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, two doses are required to be considered “fully vaccinated,” and Young said this pill will, on average, be administered as a 5-to-7 day treatment taken once a day. The official dosing and timing of the medication will be announced following the approval of the pill.  

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