By Raetta Holdman

DENVER (CBS4) – The FDA is reviewing a request from drugmaker Merck to approve a pill to treat COVID-19. If approved, it would be first pill to treat the illness. All other FDA-backed treatments require an IV or injection.

CBS4 Medical Editor Dr. Dave Hnida talked about how that approval could impact vaccination rates on CBSN Denver this week. He was asked if there are concerns the pill could discourage vaccinations. Hnida said that was a great point.

“I think a lot of people are saying ‘Well, you know there’s this magic pill coming out and I don’t need to be vaccinated now. If I end up getting sick, like if I get strep throat they can just me penicillin, I’m going to get better.'”

But Hnida said that’s not this particular medicine works.

“The thing to remember is that it really is intended for people who have very mild symptoms of COVID. The goal is to prevent them from becoming sicker to the point where they wind up in the hospital or even die from getting COVID.”

“The pill was really only about 50% effective in preventing mild disease from going on to becoming more severe disease.”

Hnida said cutting those chances in half might sound great — and it will be helpful — but it is important to keep in mind vaccines lessen the chances of getting severely ill by more than 90%.

“In this particular situation, the vaccine is definitely better than just simply waiting and taking a pill in case you get sick. We always advocate: please do prevention. It is much better than having to cure.”

That pill is expected to be available after the Jan. 1. It is something taken for five days and costs about $700.

Raetta Holdman