By Matt Taibbi
Former HHS officials say they tried to accelerate funding for what became Merck’s new “miracle” drug last year, but were blocked. How culture-war stupidity may have cost “tens of thousands” of lives.
It seemed like a rare instance of good news in big doses last week when pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that a new drug called molnupiravir had been shown in tests to cut hospitalizations and deaths by half. The simple, easy-to-take pill would give doctors “a whole new, easy-to-use weapon” in the fight against Covid-19, as the AP put it.
Press observers were ecstatic. Headlines ranged from “Merck pill seen as ‘huge advance’” (Reuters) to “Momentum From Potential Covid-19 Drug Stays Intact” (Yahoo!) to “Everything You Need to Know About Merck’s Game-Changing Covid Pill” (Bloomberg). Nearly every story cited data from Merck’s own press release, which claimed studies had shown an experimental oral drug had tremendous promise. From the Bloomberg article:
Of 385 patients who got the drug, 28 or 7.3% were hospitalized, compared with 53 out of 377 (14.1%) who got a placebo. Through day 29, no deaths were reported in patients who received molnupiravir, but eight died in the placebo arm.
Even the sainted Anthony Fauci conferred holy approval in Politico’s “Fauci Sees Hope in New Merck Drug.” Declines in stock market prices early in the week even appeared attributed to the drug’s arrival, as investors whispered fears that a pill making a return to normal life possible might lead to imminent lessening of emergency support from the Federal Reserve, which of course would be a catastrophe for Wall Street. Modern America in a nutshell: if you want to identify truly good news, check if it triggers panic-selling.