Australia Has Secured 300,000 Doses Of COVID Antiviral Pill Molnupiravir, But What Is It?

Australia Has Secured 300,000 Doses Of COVID Antiviral Pill Molnupiravir, But What Is It?
Image: Merck

By the end of the long weekend, almost 57 per cent of Australians over the age of 16 had been double vaccinated. But as this number continues to rise, the Australian government has added another weapon to its COVID-19 armoury: molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral pill that isn’t fully approved just yet.

The government has secured 300,000 does of molnupiravir. Here’s everything you need to know.

What Is Molnupiravir?

Molnupiravir is expected to become the first oral antiviral medication for treating COVID-19. It was originally developed to treat influenza. Ridgeback Biotherapeutics and Merck are collaborating on the development of the antiviral.

Patients take four pills of molnupiravir twice a day for five days.

When you boil it down, molnupiravir works by causing genetic mutations that confuse the virus.

It’s best used on people with symptoms that do not require hospitalisation, however.

Does Molnupiravir Work?

According to Merck, molnupiravir ‘significantly’ reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death from COVID in at-risk patients with mild or moderate cases.

Its findings were published following a clinical trial of 775 adult COVID-19 patients.

Interim results found that 29 days after treatment, 7.3 per cent were hospitalised and there was not a single death. 14.1 per cent of those given a placebo in the trial were hospitalised and eight unfortunately passed away.

The catch is that the Therapeutic Goods Administration hasn’t yet fully approved molnupiravir (it’s given the pill provisional determination), but it’s expecting to early next year.

We’re also awaiting a decision from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Why Is Australia Getting It?

According to Health Minister Greg Hunt, vaccines and treatments work together.

“Vaccines can prevent you getting the disease or seriously reduce the risk or consequences of it; treatments don’t prevent you getting the disease, but they can seriously reduce the risk of COVID becoming a life-threatening or a disease which requires hospitalisation,” he said.

Hunt wants molnupiravir to be available for those diagnosed with COVID to prevent the super bad effects from occurring.

Hunt considers molnupiravir to be safe and effective. He’s also been chatting directly with Merck’s CEO about it.

Is Molnupiravir Different To Sotrovimab?

You might have heard that Australia received 15,000 new supplies of a drug called sotrovimab.

Like molnupiravir, sotrovimab helps to protect people against developing severe symptoms. The TGA approved sotrovimab back in August.

Unlike molnupiravir, sotrovimab requires a single dose to be administered intravenously.

According to Hunt, sotrovimab has been shown to reduce hospitalisation or death by 79 per cent in adults with mild-to-moderate COVID-19, who are at risk of developing severe COVID-19.

Molnupiravir will mean patients can take a pill at home, instead of visiting a healthcare facility. It’s also way less invasive.

Should I Still Get The Vaccine?

Yes.

Molnupiravir is a treatment. It won’t protect against COVID like the vaccines do, rather it will (hopefully) be there to prevent those with COVID from feeling the full brunt of symptoms.

There are three vaccines included in Australia’s national rollout: Vaxzevria (AstraZeneca), Comirnaty (Pfizer) and Spikevax (Moderna). The TGA is evaluating a protein vaccine developed by Novavax, but it is not yet available in Australia.