Japan approves Merck's oral coronavirus drug

NHK -- Dec 25
Japan's health ministry has authorized the use of an oral COVID-19 drug developed by US pharmaceutical firm Merck.

The decision came on Friday. The ministry plans to deliver molnupiravir to medical institutions, drugstores and other facilities nationwide so that patients can start taking it as early as next week.

The drug is the first oral medicine in Japan for preventing coronavirus patients from developing severe symptoms.

Patients who can receive molnupiravir must be at least 18 years old, have mild or moderate symptoms and be at risk of becoming seriously ill. It will not be prescribed for pregnant women.

The drug will be administered within five days of the onset of symptoms. It will come in the form of pills, to be taken twice a day for five days.

The ministry says the drug will be provided for free.

Merck says a clinical trial shows that molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by about 30 percent.

The medicine is expected to help reduce the burden on patients and medical institutions because it can be taken at home.

The ministry has secured supplies for 1.6 million patients. Sufficient doses for 200,000 people will be provided this year.