DENVER (CBS4) – The Chief Medical Officer at National Jewish Health says the possibility of a pill to help treat patients with COVID-19 could be a crucial tool to reduce hospitalizations and prevent another surge impacting medical staff across the state. Merck said early results of its experimental medication are an encouraging sign of another treatment for the virus.

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“The thought of having an oral therapy for COVID to help keep people out of the hospital is a really exciting prospect,” said Dr. Carrie Horn, the CMO at National Jewish. “We really want to make sure that the data supports the efficacy as well as the safety of it.”

A treatment in the form of a pill is easier to administer and easier for patients to access compared to current options for anyone who has contracted the disease. Current therapies require a trip to a medical facility even if you are a patient who has not been hospitalized. Experts told the pharmaceutical company it should end its trial early because of the early reporting of positive results. Horn says that is uncommon but practical given the high public health interest for this medication.

“If we had an oral therapy agent to help keep people out of the hospital going into the winter or ending the winter, I think that would be a great benefit for the already stressed healthcare resources,” she told CBS4 on Friday.

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Molnupiravir was given to patients within five days of showing symptoms, the company looked at 775 adults with mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 and high risk for severe disease. It did not offer any benefits for those patients already hospitalized with severe disease, according to early results. Merck plans to submit its data for FDA review in the coming days, other companies testing similar drugs could report results in the weeks ahead.

“Getting to treatment as soon as possible is the biggest thing that people can do it will have the biggest impact on preventing severe illness, preventing hospitalization, and preventing death,” Horn said.

She added that it may take another month or two before we could see it as an option for treatment in the state. The current trial likely includes patients with all variants to help it fight the current form of the disease. As a pill, it will also allow for faster treatment. While it is still too early to know if it will become part of the total response for COVID-19, it will only complement the approach already happening in Colorado. Horn says the response is already in three categories, the vaccine, current therapies and potentially this pill for infections, and hospital care for severe disease.

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“Prevention is key so the vaccine is our number one tool in ending the COVID pandemic,” Horn said. “So while the vaccine helps takes things down a notch, having a treatment to also prevent more severe illness and then hospitalization is great.”