New antiviral pills no substitute for COVID vaccines, doctors say

The oral antiviral pills could soon get federal approval to treat COVID-19.

This undated file image provided by Merck & Co. shows their new antiviral medication molnupiravir. An experimental COVID-19 drug could soon become the first U.S.-authorized pill to treat the coronavirus. Merck & Co. via AP, File

DAYTON, Ohio — Oral antiviral pills could soon get federal approval to treat COVID-19 but health leaders say preventing the disease with vaccination is still important.

Readers continue to have questions about the coronavirus pandemic. So the Dayton Daily News assembled a panel of trusted experts to provide answers on a regular basis. Here are answers to some of the questions we’ve received from readers in recent weeks.

Experts quoted in this article are:

Oral antiviral pills from Merck and Pfizer could be soon approved to treat COVID-19. Is it still worth getting the COVID-19 vaccine if these become widely available?

Colon: Absolutely. The vaccines remain our best line of defense against COVID-19 as they help prevent the disease in the first place. The new antiviral treatments should be viewed as an additional tool when vaccines fail or in those cases where someone is not able to receive a vaccination. In medicine, prevention is always the preferred strategy, and this is what vaccines do.


Weinstein: Prevention of a disease is always better than seeking a cure after getting infected. These drugs will be a great step forward in our ability to treat COVID-19, but they only work if taken early in the course of infection. Vaccination cuts off the pattern of transmission in the community by limiting the number of people who get infected. Most of the individuals being hospitalized and those dying from COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

How accurate are at-home COVID-19 test kits?

Paton: This depends on the test that is used, but in general these tests are very good at identifying people who have the disease. Around 85 percent of people who are infected will test positive. This percent is higher for people who are having symptoms and during the first week of infection.


When is full approval by the FDA expected for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines?

Frenck: The requirement the FDA used for a vaccine to be available by emergency use authorization was at least two months of safety data on at least 50 percent of the participants in the clinical trial. For approval, the FDA has to have six months of data from the time of the last participant in the trial. That is why Pfizer was given approval in about August. My guess is that Moderna and J&J are getting close to the six-month time point. So, the best I can say is that I would expect a decision from the FDA “soon.”

When do you expect Moderna or Johnson & Johnson will be approved for children?

Frenck: Moderna has submitted their adolescent data (12-17) to the FDA. It still is under review. The FDA will make a decision on lowering the age for the emergency use authorization based on the safety and immunogenicity of the vaccine in the adolescent group. J&J has not conducted a trial in adolescents.


When do you expect any coronavirus vaccine will be approved for children under 5?

Frenck: Based on the status of the clinical trials in the kids under 5 years of age, I don’t see a vaccine for under 5 before late spring, early summer.

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