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Merck Says Its COVID Pill Cuts Hospitalizations, Deaths by 50%

This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows its antiviral medication.
This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows its antiviral medication.

The U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck announced Friday its experimental COVID-19 pill known as Molnupiravir reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half in people recently infected with the coronavirus.

In a statement on its website, the company said early results of its Phase 3 testing were so strongly positive that an independent data monitoring committee, in consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, cut short the trials. Recruitment into the study is being stopped early due to those positive results.

The company said it will be seeking approval from health officials in the U.S. and drug regulators around the world. As the first pill that could be used to treat COVID-19, it represents a major breakthrough in efforts to stem the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Friday was the deadline set by the World Health Organization for reaching the global target of countries fully vaccinating 10% of their populations against COVID-19. The WHO's African region says 15 countries on the continent have reached that goal.

In a virtual briefing Friday, the WHO's Africa Program area manager for immunization, Richard Mihigo, said those results show progress, yet 70% of African countries missed the milestone. He said half of the 52 countries with COVID-19 vaccination programs in Africa have inoculated less than 2% of their populations.

Mihigo said Africa has received more than 200 million vaccine doses to date and administered about 71% of them, with 60 million people now fully vaccinated, which represents just over 4% of the total population in Africa.

Some information for this report came from the Associated Press and Reuters.