Local experts weigh in on COVID-19 pill

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(ABC 6 News) – The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to a new anti-viral COVID-19 pill made by Pfizer and by Merck. Health experts in Rochester are providing some insight on how this new pill pairs with the vaccine, and when we can expect to see it distributed in Southeastern Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health and Mayo Clinic both said this pill is not a replacement for the vaccine. The 10-pill series proved to reduce severe illness or death, and reduces hospitalizations by 90 percent. However unlike the vaccine, the pill does not prevent illness overall. People with COVID-19 are supposed to start taking the pill within five days of testing positive.

"If you wait for several days, you’re going to have instead of millions of viral particles, you’ll have billions or viral particles. The less virus you have on board your system and in your body when you take these drugs the more effective they will be," Rick Kennedy, co-director of a vaccine research group at Mayo Clinic, said.

Experts say this COVID pill is in extremely limited supply, and only those at higher risk of severe illness will get access to it at first.

"There is incredibly limited supplies of this medication. They were just given emergency use authorization and so we’re just starting to see a trickle of these medications come to the state," Nick Lehnertz, an infectious disease specialist at the Minnesota Department of Health, said.

The vaccine prepares your body for the virus, but the pill actually stops viral particles from replicating in your body — making the illness easier to fight.

Experts encourage those immune compromised or otherwise at high risk to ask a primary care provider about the new drug as soon as they test positive for COVID-19.