Capsules of the experimental anti-Covid drug molnupiravir, for which Merck is seeking emergency use authorization in the US ( Merck & Co,Inc. / AFP/HANDOUT)

Sri Lankan minister did not promise new drug can 'eradicate' Covid

  • This article is more than one year old.
  • Published on October 20, 2021 at 07:01
  • 3 min read
  • By AFP Sri Lanka
Facebook posts circulating in Sri Lanka claim a junior health minister said in a statement that antiviral drug molnupiravir could soon be used to "fully eradicate" Covid-19 in the island nation. The posts are misleading: the junior minister said molnupiravir could be used to treat Covid-19 patients, but he did not state it could "eradicate" the illness. Health experts warned the drug should not be considered as a replacement for Covid-19 vaccines. The drug's manufacturer said it may significantly reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death in high-risk patients suffering from an early stage of the disease based on a clinical trial it did.

"The capsule that will be procured to fully eradicate Covid," reads a Sinhala-language Facebook post from October 13.

It was published on a Facebook page for Sri Lankan news channel Hiru News that has more than two million followers.

Screenshot of the Facebook post captured on October 14, 2021

The Facebook post shared an article that quotes Sri Lankan minister Channa Jayasumana.

"State Minister Channa Jayasumana says a request has been made by the Health Services Director General to issue necessary guidelines for the use of a capsule produced by Merck drug production company that is presently used by multiple countries to eradicate corona," the Sinhala-language report reads.

In his statement, Jayasumana refers to antiviral drug moulnupiravir -- produced by US pharmaceutical companies Merck & Co. and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.

On October 11, 2021, US pharmaceutical giant Merck applied for emergency use authorisation of moulnupiravir in the United States, a major step towards finding a simple pill to treat the disease.

It also prevented 100 percent of deaths compared to a placebo, but the sample size was relatively small and the figure can't yet be reliably extrapolated. AFP reported on the development here.

Health experts said interim results were encouraging, but cautioned the drug should not be regarded as a replacement for approved Covid-19 vaccines.

Similar posts announcing the imminent arrival of a drug to "eradicate" Covid-19 were shared here and here, and in news reports here.

However, the posts are misleading.

In his statement, Jayasumana did not describe molnupiravir as a drug which could "fully eradicate" Covid-19.

Minister's comments

In the video published in the Hiru News article, Jayasumana does not refer to the drug as having the ability to "fully eradicate" Covid-19.

"A drug production company named Merck has produced a capsule known as molnupiravir," he said in Sinhala at the 0:58 mark.

"We have made a request from the Health Services Director-General to make inquires from the expert panel on their opinion for a recommendation on if this drug is necessary for use in Sri Lanka, when we should import it and in what quantities."

'Not a miracle cure'

Medical experts warned the drug is not a replacement for approved Covid-19 vaccines.

Professor Peter Hotez, Texas Children's Hospital Dean, said the capsule was "not a miracle cure" and "not a substitute for vaccination" in a Twitter thread on October 1.

Merck does not claim the drug can eradicate Covid-19.

In a media release issued on October 1, the US pharmaceutical giant said the oral antiviral capsule "reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death by approximately 50% compared to placebo patients with mild or moderate Covid-19 symptoms".

As of October 20, 2021, the drug's effectiveness as a treatment for Covid-19 was still being assessed by health authorities in the US.

In this release from the FDA, it states: “On Nov. 30, the advisory committee will meet to discuss the available data supporting the use of molnupiravir to treat mild-to-moderate coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in adults who have tested positive for COVID-19, and who are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19, including hospitalization or death."

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