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Health officials said in touch with Pfizer over new COVID pill

Ministry looking to evaluate new medication, but is concerned news of highly effective coronavirus treatment could undermine vaccine and booster shot efforts

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. According to a study released in The Lancet Global Health on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, Fluvoxamine, a cheap antidepressant, reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19. (NIAID-RML via AP)
This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. According to a study released in The Lancet Global Health on Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021, Fluvoxamine, a cheap antidepressant, reduced the need for hospitalization among high-risk adults with COVID-19. (NIAID-RML via AP)

Health Ministry officials have been in touch with Pfizer to request information regarding the pharma giant’s new antiviral pill against COVID-19, the Kan public broadcaster reported Sunday.

The ministry has requested details on the drug which the US drugmaker has touted as highly efficient in preventing hospitalization and death, as 90 other nations were already in active talks with the pharma firm.

However, Kan quoted senior Health Ministry officials as expressing concern that news of the drug could undermine vaccination and booster shot efforts.

The report comes hours after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Israel was looking into purchasing the new pill.

“There may be good news in the form of a medication for treating coronavirus,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

The premier said he asked health officials over the weekend “to examine the matter in depth” of acquiring the pill for Israel.

“If the drug is approved for use it will be another significant tool in managing the pandemic, together with vaccines for everyone and accessible tests for everyone, all the time,” he said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, heads a weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on November 7, 2021. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / POOL / AFP)

Israel’s successful coronavirus vaccination campaign was largely the result of clinching the first contracts with Pfizer-BioNTech for a mass supply of doses, after then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made dozens of calls to CEO Albert Bourla.

Earlier Sunday, the top Health Ministry official said Pfizer’s new drug “sounds promising” but stressed “we need to learn about its efficacy, side effects and costs.”

Health Ministry Director-General Nachman Ash told 103FM radio a decision would be made after the full results of the trial were published, and predicted that Israel’s “good relationship with Pfizer will help us bring the drug quickly.”

Pfizer announced Friday that its experimental antiviral pill for COVID-19 cut rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90 percent as the drugmaker joins the race to bring the first easy-to-use medication against the coronavirus to the global market.

Currently all COVID-19 treatments used in the US require an IV or injection. Competitor Merck’s COVID-19 pill is already under review at the Food and Drug Administration after showing strong initial results, and on Thursday the United Kingdom became the first country to give it approval.

This undated image provided by Merck & Co. shows its new antiviral medication (Merck & Co. via AP)

Pfizer said it would ask the FDA and international regulators to authorize its pill as soon as possible, after independent experts recommended halting the company’s study based on the strength of its results. Once Pfizer applies, the FDA could make a decision within weeks or months.

In recent weeks Israel has also recorded a sustained drop in morbidity, with infections and deaths plummeting from the peaks recorded at the height of the fourth major coronavirus wave to hit the country.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel has dropped to 5,984 after being above 10,000 for over three months and after passing 90,000 in early September, according to figures released on Sunday by the Health Ministry.

The data also showed 194 new cases were confirmed on Saturday, down from between 5,000 and 6,000 daily almost two months ago. There were 167 people hospitalized in a serious condition and the death toll stood at 8,122.

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