Japan Approves Use Of Merck’s COVID-19 Pill

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FILE - This undated photo provided by Merck & Co. shows their new antiviral medication molnupiravir. U.S. regulators have authorized a second pill against COVID-19, an antiviral drug from Merck that may help blunt the wave of infections driven by the omicron variant. The Food and Drug Administration granted the drug emergency use Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, for adults with early COVID-19 who face the highest risks of hospitalization.(Merck & Co. via AP, File)

Japan has approved the COVID-19 pill developed by U.S. pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. for use beginning next week, the Japanese health minister said Friday.

Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told reporters that a ministry drug panel authorized Merck’s molnupiravir under a fast-track process and the drug will be shipped to hospitals and pharmacies beginning next week.

It’s one of two medications for treating COVID-19 that Japan has secured. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the country is procuring 1.6 million doses from Merck.

Japan has also arranged for a shipment of 2 million doses of a COVID-19 pill made by Pfizer that hasn’t yet received approval for use in the country.

Until recently, Japan largely kept out coronavirus infections involving the new omicron variant by enforcing stringent border controls. The first known locally transmitted cases were reported in Osaka on Wednesday.

More cases were reported Friday in Osaka and neighboring Kyoto, while Tokyo reported its first community-acquired omicron case.