Pfizer, Merck COVID-19 pills are in short supply during Omicron surge

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Pfizer, Merck COVID-19 pills are in short supply during Omicron surge

The life-saving COVID-19 pills believed to be key in ending the pandemic are in short supply and long production times have doctors desperate amid Omicron’s surge.

“This should be a really joyous time because we now have highly effective antiviral pills,” Erin McCreary, a pharmacist and administrator at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told the Associated Press. “Instead, this feels like the hardest and most chaotic stretch of the pandemic.”

Last month, the FDA approved both the Pfizer and Merck pills that studies show cut the chances of severe disease and death. Pfizer’s pill has been shown to be nearly 90 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to trial data. Merck’s has been proven to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by around 30 percent. Patients are able to take the pills at home, which would help the overburdened hospital system.

The US didn’t pre-order the pills in droves like it did for vaccines, according to the AP, and the Pfizer pills, called Paxlovid, take six to eight months to make.

Pfizer shows the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills.
Pfizer’s and Merck’s COVID-19 pills were supposed to be an important weapon in the pandemic.
AP

Pfizer said it will only have 250,000 courses of the treatment by the end of January for US patients. The first 10 million doses won’t be available until June.

“We expect to use our strong manufacturing capabilities and our extensive supplier network to continue to improve output rapidly,” Pfizer, which delivered around 160,000 doses of the pill in December, said in a statement to the AP.

Merck said it will be able to ship around 3 million doses of its treatment by the end of January, but it’s in less demand due to its lower efficacy rate.

Paxlovid, a Pfizer's coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pill
Studies show both the Pfizer and Merck pills cut the chances of severe disease and death.
Pfizer/Handout via REUTERS

New York Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said the 20,000 doses allotted to the Empire State is insufficient.

“We need more of these drugs in order to make them alter the course of the pandemic and reduce hospitalization,” she said.

Almost 128,000 people in the US were in the hospital with COVID-19 on Sunday, a record amount, according to the AP.

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