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What You Need to Know About Merck's New Covid Treatment Pill

The pills are effective and relatively cheap, but they are unlikely to be available for everyone with Covid.

Merck on Friday announced that its new pill to treat Covid-19reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by about 50 percent. Merck plans to seek emergency authorization for the antiviral pills to be used in the United States.

Here’s what you need to know.

The pills are meant for people who are sick with Covid but are not in the hospital. Merck’s Phase 3 clinical trial enrolled only unvaccinated people who were considered high risk, such as older people or those with medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease. Initially, the drug might only be available for those people, but experts expect it to eventually become more widely available.

The pills are designed to be taken as soon as possible once a person shows symptoms of having Covid — a time when the virus is replicating rapidly and the immune system has not yet mounted a defense. In Merck’s trial, volunteers had to have shown symptoms within the past five days, and some researchers think the pills must be taken even earlier to be most effective.