It would become the first oral medicine that fights viral infection for Covid-19 if approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.
Also on Friday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said his state will become the nation’s first to require Covid-19 vaccinations for students.
The mandate will be a condition of in-person attendance for the 6 million students in the state’s public schools. Independent study is an option for those unvaccinated, Newsom’s office said in a release.
Previously required are vaccines against diseases such as diptheria, polio, measles, mumps and chicken pox.
In August, the state required all school staff to either show proof of Covid vaccination or submit to weekly testing.
Merck seeking emergency use authorization ‘as soon as possible’
“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.”
Merck has been producing doses while awaiting the study results and expects to produce 10 million by the end of the year.
Vaccination still the best tool, White House official says
The announcement by Merck is “very good news,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday in a White House Covid-19 briefing.
“The news of the efficacy of this particular antiviral is obviously very good news,” Fauci said. “The company, when they briefed us last night, had mentioned that they will be submitting their data to the FDA imminently.”
The best way to think about the antiviral, when it is authorized or approved, is as an additional tool, White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients added.
“If approved, I think the right way to think about this is this is a potential additional tool in our toolbox to protect people from the worst outcomes of Covid,” Zients said. “I think it’s really important to remember that vaccination, as we’ve talked about today, remains far and away our best tool against Covid-19. It can prevent you from getting Covid in the first place. And we want to prevent infections, not just wait to treat them once they happen.”
Some states are seeing increased vaccinations
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont has instructed the National Guard to prepare in case of staffing shortages when a mandate and testing requirement go into effect at the end of Monday. State employees must provide proof of vaccination or submit to weekly tests; those who don’t will be put 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 one of several states that face pushback over mandating vaccinations for critical workers. Health experts say it is necessary to protect people at a higher risk for Covid-19. But it has been met with resistance from a minority wishing to remain unvaccinated and in their current roles.
In Rhode Island, the Health Department announced in August that “all employees, interns, and volunteers in RIDOH-licensed healthcare facilities” would be required to get their first dose of the vaccine by Friday.
Care New England, one of the largest hospital systems in the state, reported Thursday that over 95% of its health care employees have been vaccinated. Staff vaccination “continues to climb by the day and the hour,” said CEO James E. Fanale.
“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.
New York City’s teachers are now 93% vaccinated, with the deadline approaching at the end of the day, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday morning.
New York City Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter does not expect to have a shortage of teachers on Monday after a vaccine mandate for educators goes into effect, she said.
“We have more subs that are vaccinated than unvaccinated. Teachers and our superintendents have been working with our principals to develop plans to ensure our students get the education and continue to get the education they deserve in person,” Porter told CNN.
Vaccines for younger kids be available soon, but poll finds hesitancy remains
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 infections and severity among eligible age groups, hesitancy remains among some parents about inoculating children 5 to 11, a survey says.
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.
Death rates in non-metropolitan areas are higher, study finds
Researchers are looking at the pandemic’s effects on different parts of the nation.
Deaths from Covid-19 in non-metropolitan areas are occurring at more than twice the rate in metropolitan areas, according to an analysis of Johns Hopkins University data from the University of Iowa’s Center for Health Policy Analysis.
In the two weeks ending September 15, non-metropolitan areas had an average of 0.85 Covid-19 deaths for every 100,000 residents. Metropolitan areas had an average of 0.41.
Deaths in nonmetropolitan areas have outpaced those in metropolitan areas consistently since the beginning of the study in April 2020. The numbers from September 15 are the fourth time the non-metro death rate has been at least double the metro. The non-metro rate had not doubled the metro since December 1.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified a drug maker involved in the production of molnupiravir. It is Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
CNN’s Ben Tinker, Jay Croft, Virginia Langmaid, Mirna Alsharif, Melanie Schuman, Augie Martin, Rosalina Nieves, Lauren Mascarenhas, Elizabeth Joseph, Melissa Alonso and Jamie Gumbrecht contributed to this report.