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Does Merck COVID Pill Derail Vaccine Passport Plans?

A new oral treatment leads to more questions about strict coronavirus regulations.

Drug companies Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have announced the results of the latest round of tests on their oral COVID-19 pill. The data evidently shows a reduction in hospital stays and deaths for up to 50% of the trial participants. Emergency Use Authorization for molnupiravir is now being sought. If that approval is granted, this will become the first antiviral oral treatment for the coronavirus. But what does this mean for the vaccine mandates and COVID regulations that are being enforced worldwide?

Amesh Adalja, at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said that “An oral antiviral that can impact hospitalization risk to such a degree would be game changing,” and that the present treatments being used are “cumbersome and logistically challenging to administer. A simple oral pill would be the opposite of that.”

A simple course of pills that can cut risk of serious illness by half will be welcomed by many in the health field, especially as a number of hospitals face severe staffing shortages due to healthcare workers refusing to be vaccinated. However, with an apparently successful treatment concluding stage three trials, and other treatments from various drug manufacturers not far behind, how long before people start questioning the efficacy and point of vaccine mandates.

A Wait and See Approach?

As witnessed during the last year and a half, medical technology development can move quickly. If the baseline for an effective pill is 50% in hospital and fatality reduction, it may not be long before other companies are producing a more effective product. The estimated 25% of Americans who do not wish to take the available vaccines may be more inclined to take a pill cure rather than a vaccine preventative. Should the efficacy of the oral antivirals continue to improve over time, the stringent vaccine protocols would appear to be less necessary.

However, it is clear that the Biden administration sees near-total vaccination as the surest way out of the pandemic, a path that has been dealt a blow by the announcement that booster shots are now recommended for people at higher risk of exposure. Even those who have had a shot (or two) already, may be less willing to obtain a booster if a non-invasive oral treatment were openly available.

COVID pillAccording to Reuters, the World Health Organization has recommended in an internal report that at-risk individuals have an annual booster shot, and that there should be “boosters every two years for the general population.” Offered a choice between yearly booster shots or what seems to be an effective treatment that limits the severity of a COVID infection, it is possible that many – both vaccinated and unvaccinated – might opt for the latter.

Which Way Mandates?

At present, a number of workers in various fields are under a government mandate to either be vaccinated or face unpaid suspension. Restaurants and venues around the country require proof of vaccination status for entry or service. The distinction between those who have a COVID pass and those who do not has caused chaos and anger, with protests, rallies, and campaigns. If there is a reliable oral treatment soon to be available, it may prove difficult for the federal government and state legislatures to continue enforcing mandates – or to justify them.

According to the CDC:

“Some fully vaccinated people will get sick, and some will even be hospitalized or die from COVID-19. However, there is evidence that vaccination may make illness less severe for those who are vaccinated and still get sick. The risk of infection, hospitalization, and death are all much lower in vaccinated people compared to unvaccinated.”

With vaccinated individuals at a lower risk of infection, hospitalization, and death, treatment for breakthrough cases in pill form may prove more palatable than continued shots. If the vaccinated have yet another layer of insulation against the harmful effects of the virus, there seems little reason to continue enforcing mandates.

How the Biden administration chooses to reshape its policy and respond to this new pharmaceutical going forward could become the hot button issue of the year.

~ Read more from Mark Angelides.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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