Merck has developed a pill to treat COVID-19, one that won’t require refrigeration like a vaccine and thus easier to store and transport to warmer climates, especially developing countries. I don’t like to sing any corporations’ praises, but Merck have taken the unusual step of authorizing generic forms of the pill, which means lower costs and enables wider distribution.
The accusation has been made (not just by me) that the failure to provide vaccines to developing countries was predicated on racism, that Global Majority countries which refused to be guinea pigs for white countries were being denied vaccines. It makes me wonder if Merck wants to avoid the same accusations or thinks this will give them a competitive advantage in the future. I certainly don’t believe altruism is the reason.
The plan to roll out Merck & Co’s promising antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 risks repeating the inequities of vaccine distribution, potentially leaving the nations with the greatest need once again at the back of the line, international health groups say.
For example, only about 5 per cent of Africa’s population is immunised, creating an urgent need for therapeutics that could keep people out of hospitals. That compares with more than a 70 per cent inoculation rate in most wealthy nations.
Merck on Oct 11 applied for US emergency clearance of the first pill for COVID-19 after it cut hospitalisations and deaths by 50 per cent in a large clinical trial. The medicine, made with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, could gain authorisation as soon as December.
The US drugmaker has taken the unusual pandemic step of licensing several generics of its antiviral molnupiravir before its branded version was even authorised for marketing.
But international health officials said even that is not enough for the medicine to reach many in low- and middle-income countries in large enough numbers, while noting shortcomings and red tape among global organisations that could further slow distribution.
Emphasis in the text is mine.