Dec 7, 2021 - Health

Poor global equity likely in COVID pill access

A illustration showing the Merck logo and someone holding a pill.

Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The same countries that have struggled to obtain coronavirus vaccines will also have to wait longer for new treatments, the WSJ reports.

Why it matters: These pills could keep unvaccinated people out of the hospital if taken soon after a person becomes infected with the virus.

Between the lines: Pfizer and Merck, the companies developing the treatments, have licensed their formulas so generic companies can sell them at a much lower price. 

  • But low-income countries may still struggle to pay the generic prices, and generic manufacturers still need several months to ramp up production. 
  • For the pills to work, they need to be administered within days after a person develops symptoms. But many low-income countries also have inadequate testing systems, which will make it difficult to catch cases early enough.

The bottom line: The Omicron variant is probably about to drive a new wave of COVID cases around the world, but the most vulnerable parts of the world won't have access to these treatment options any time soon. 

  • Yes, but: If Omicron causes less severe disease — which some scientists believe will be the case — that would make the scenario much less dire.
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