Merck says pill cuts risk of Covid-19 hospitalization, death in half as many states see vaccinations increase

Originally Published: 01 OCT 21 04:30 ET
Updated: 01 OCT 21 07:15 ET

    (CNN) -- A pill has cut the risk of hospitalization or death from Covid-19 by half in a study, Merck and Ridgeback Therapeutic said Friday.

It would become the first oral antiviral for Covid-19 if approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.

"At the interim analysis, molnupiravir reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by approximately 50%," Merck said in a news release. "7.3% of patients who received molnupiravir were either hospitalized or died through Day 29 following randomization (28/385), compared with 14.1% of placebo treated patients (53,377). Through Day 29, no deaths were reported in patients who received molnupiravir, as compared to 8 deaths in patients who received placebo."

Merck said it will seek FDA emergency use authorization "as soon as possible."

Experts have said that developing an oral antiviral could be the next chance to thwart Covid-19. A short-term regimen of daily pills would aim to fight the virus early after diagnosis and prevent symptoms from developing after exposure.

One antiviral drug has been approved to treat Covid. Remdesivir is given intravenously to sick patients in the hospital. It is not meant for early, widespread use.

Some states are seeing increased vaccinations

Meanwhile, as more states and health care systems move toward mandatory inoculations for certain workers, officials are hoping the incentive of employment will eliminate vaccine hesitancy -- while one governor is arranging contingency scenarios.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has instructed the National Guard to prepare in case there are staffing shortages when a vaccine mandate and testing requirement goes into effect at the end of Monday, he said. State employees must provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly testing requirements by the deadline, and those who don't comply will be placed on unpaid leave.

As of Thursday, more than 63% -- 20,000 employees -- were fully vaccinated while 12% of employees have started weekly testing, Lamont said. More than 8,000 non-compliant employees remain, yet some 2,000 have updated their status in the last two days.

"We have provided most state employees with the option to get tested weekly instead of getting vaccinated, providing more flexibility than our neighboring states. We have also provided our employees with a compliance grace period. There is no reason all our employees should not be in compliance," Lamont said.

Connecticut is just one of several states that face pushback over mandating vaccinations for critical workers, a move that has been highlighted by health experts as necessary to protect those at a higher risk for Covid-19, but which has been met with stiff resistance from a vocal minority who wish to remain both unvaccinated and in their current roles.

In Rhode Island, the department of health announced in August that "all employees, interns, and volunteers in RIDOH-licensed healthcare facilities" would be required to get their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by Friday.

Care New England, one of the largest hospital systems in the state, reported Thursday that over 95% of its healthcare workforce has been vaccinated. Staff vaccination "continues to climb by the day and the hour," according to the system's CEO James E. Fanale.

The deadline has already passed in other states. California's 2 million health care workers needed to be vaccinated by Thursday or risk losing their jobs, with exemptions available for religious beliefs or qualifying medical reasons.

Many hospitals that CNN surveyed had high vaccination rates among employees, averaging over 90% at some of the state's largest healthcare systems.

In New York, none of the health care facilities shut down as a result of vaccine mandates for workers, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday. Earlier this week, it was reported that 92% of nursing home staff, 89% of adult care facilities staff, and 92% of hospital staff have received at least one dose statewide.

"You will see that number go higher quickly, because what we're finding is, you know, as more people are furloughed or suspended, that that number is going to go up," Hochul said.

Some area hospitals had reported suspending employees without pay or temporarily halting elective inpatient procedures due to shortages.

Vaccines for ages 5-11 may be available soon, but poll finds hesitancy remains

As the Delta variant continues to spread, health care employees are far from the only who deal with everyday risks on the job. The resumption of in-person learning in schools has already been complicated by Covid-19 outbreaks and the quarantining of exposed students and staff.

Yet despite evidence that vaccinations are lowering Covid-19 infections and severity among eligible age groups, there is still hesitancy among parents and guardians about inoculating children ages 5 to 11, according to a new survey.

Only around one-third of parents of 5- to 11-year-olds say that they will vaccinate their child as soon as a vaccine becomes available for that age group, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor results published Thursday. A similar percentage, 32%, say that they will wait and see how the vaccine is working, and 24% say that they definitely won't get their 5- to 11-year-olds vaccinated.

According to the report, 58% of parents said that K-12 schools should require masks in school for all students and staff, 4% said masks should be required only for unvaccinated students and staff, and 35% said there should be no mask requirements.

There is a split between vaccinated and unvaccinated parents polled, KFF found, with 73% of vaccinated parents saying schools should require masks for all students and 63% of unvaccinated parents saying there should be no mask requirements.

The bulk of interviews, conducted September 13 to 22 from a sample of more than 1,500 adults, were before Pfizer announced that clinical trials showed their Covid-19 vaccine was safe and generated an immune response in this age group.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is approved for people age 16 and older and has an emergency use authorization for people ages 12 to 15. On Tuesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced they submitted data on children ages 5 to 11 to the FDA for initial review but are not yet seeking emergency use authorization.

A formal submission to request EUA for the vaccine is expected to follow in the coming weeks, the companies said in a statement.

Among those already eligible for vaccines, the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that nearly 200 million US adults have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. Nearly 67% of US adults are fully vaccinated.

Death rates in nonmetropolitan areas are higher, study finds

Meanwhile, researchers are looking at the effects the pandemic is having on different parts of the nation.

Deaths from Covid-19 in nonmetropolitan areas are now occurring at more than twice the rate of deaths from Covid-19 in metropolitan areas, according to an analysis of Johns Hopkins University data from the University of Iowa's Center for Health Policy Analysis.

After analyzing data on average Covid-19 death rates at the county level, it was determined that in the two weeks ending September 15, 2021, nonmetropolitan areas had an average of 0.85 Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 residents. Metropolitan areas had an average half that -- 0.41 Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 residents.

Deaths in nonmetropolitan areas have outpaced those in metropolitan areas consistently since the beginning of the study in April 2020, and the numbers from September 15 are the fourth time overall that the nonmetropolitan death rate has been at least double the metropolitan death rate. However, the nonmetropolitan rate had not been double that of metropolitan areas since December 1, 2020.

The researchers used US Department of Agriculture methodology to differentiate between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. Counties were logged as metropolitan if they had an urban area with 50,000 or more people or were an outlying county with strong economic ties to an urban center. All other counties in the study were coded as nonmetropolitan.

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