Omicron complicates puzzle over at-home COVID pill

The FDA will likely specify which “high risk” populations should have access to the Merck-Ridgeback Biotherapeutics pill if they contract Covid-19. That still will leave doctors and other providers on the hook for making judgment calls on whether to prescribe the pill — and to do it within five days of a patient showing symptoms — in order to realize the potential benefits.

“It will probably end up being a quite limited subset of individuals who even qualify [for the drug],” said Leana Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University. Patients who qualify will still have to jump through several hoops — developing symptoms, testing positive, reaching a health care provider and finding a pharmacy — in an incredibly short span of time to be used effectively, she added…

In Merck’s trials, however, the pill was only tested on unvaccinated adults, which makes some health experts wonder if the pills will only be available to that group. With an unvaccinated population at just over 99 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control, three million doses is “a drop in the bucket,” said Eunice Neeley, a preventive medicine specialist and primary care provider based in New Orleans, Louisiana.