Africa’s top public health body plans to talk to Merck about obtaining supplies of its molnupiravir treatment pill for COVID-19, although talks with Pfizer about its Paxlovid medication were more advanced, it said on Thursday.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had announced last week it was negotiating for supplies of Paxlovid, joining a global race for a drug seen as a potential game changer in fighting the virus.
“The Pfizer arrangement is far advanced … In time, if we narrow this down and finalise … with Pfizer, I’m sure we’ll engage with Merck as well,” he said at a news briefing.
Merck has said it expects molnupiravir to be effective against the highly contagious Omicron, which has driven a surge in cases across the world.
While vaccines have been governments’ main weapon against COVID, there are hopes Merck and Pfizer’s experimental pills – taken at home rather than in hospital or medical centres – could be key in reducing the chances of dying or hospitalisation for those most at risk of severe illness.