COLUMBUS (WCMH) – A new tool to help treat COVID-19 could be coming to your medicine cabinet sooner rather than later.

Monday, drug manufacturers Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics announced they were seeking FDA emergency use authorization for their pill known as molnupiravir.

“This pill works by stopping the COVID-19 [virus] from reproducing in the body,” explained Central Ohio family physician Dr. Anup Kanodia.

The antiviral treatment would require a patient to take 4 pills twice daily for 5 days. Doctors compare it to Tamiflu, a prescription used to shorten the duration and severity of flu cases. Similarly, clinical trials have found molnupiravir reduces the chances of hospitalization and death in COVID-19 patients by up to 50 percent.

“The goal is to help people who are mild to moderate [cases] before they get severe. And give them a pill versus an IV infusion,” said Dr. Kanodia, who explained IV infusion treatments are typically used in serious cases of the virus and can be an expensive option.

Many researchers say getting the COVID-19 vaccine to as many eligible people as possible should still be a high priority, even if molnupiravir becomes widely available.

“This is a good treatment, but you still need prevention,” Dr. Kanodia said.

All versions of the vaccine have been found to be highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and death, but Dr. Kanodia acknowledged antiviral treatments could be a path out of the pandemic while vaccination rates continue lagging.

“Most people that are getting hospitalized are the unvaccinated,” he said. “So for those people who refuse to get vaccinated, this could be a good treatment for them to avoid hospitalizations and deaths.” He expects the widespread availability of both the vaccine and antiviral treatments could make COVID-19 an endemic virus, fluctuating seasonally and annually like the flu virus.

“What’s the best way to prevent it, what’s the best way to treat it so we can help people like the flu?” he said.

Some expect, if federal regulators sign off on the Merck pill, it could become available to consumers by the end of the year. Several other drug manufacturers, including Pfizer, are developing their own antiviral treatments.