NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A new tool to fight COVID-19 has arrived in Tennessee as the Omicron variant surges.
"They're drugs that are designed to actually stop the infection inside a cell," said Dr. Mark Denison, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. "Vaccines and antibodies stop the infections, the virus before it gets in a cell".
Denison and his team of researchers conducted laboratory studies for Merck's oral anti-viral COVID pill called Molnupirvar. Now that treatment, and Pfizer's Paxlovid, are in Tennessee thanks to an emergency use authorization by the FDA.
However, the treatments aren't for everyone. Patients need a prescription for the drugs and they're recommended for people at high risk for severe disease or hospitalization. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, early studies indicate these treatment options may reduce severe outcomes from COVID-19 including hospitalization or death.
"Get the vaccine, get the booster. If you take the pills take them all," said Dr. Mark Denison. "Do not stop taking them if you start feeling a little better because that is the pathway for the virus to come back and it's also the pathway for the virus to develop resistance to the drugs".
The state received 5,000 courses of Merck's drugs and 1,000 of Pfizer's, with more shipments anticipated in the near future. Currently, you can find them at select Walmart stores.
But ultimately, Denison said your first line of defense against COVID should be getting vaccinated.