The South Korean government announced Friday it is in the final phase of signing a contract to purchase more than 300,000 pills of Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill Paxlovid. More than 542,000 pills, including 242,000 pills of Merck’s molnupiravir that was already purchased, will be introduced in phases from January to February next year, as soon as they are authorized for emergency use by the government.
The two antivirals, which have been authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are both oral pills that can be taken conveniently with a doctor’s prescription and are known to be efficacious against all different Covid-19 variants. Notably, since Pfizer’s Paxlovid is shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent, compared with 30 percent for molnupiravir, the former is seeing much stronger demand. The U.S. has signed a contract to buy 10 million Paxlovid pills and Japan 2 million pills, while France cancelled pre-orders of molnupiravir, and instead decided to buy Paxlovid pills.
The Korean government has also said it will focus efforts on purchasing Pfizer’s Paxlovid, but even the U.S. government will reportedly be able to receive the entire supply of its orders around summer next year. Seoul failed to secure vaccine supply early enough, which hampered its disease control efforts and caused massive damage on the economy. With patients with severe illness hitting new highs day after day, and the Omicron variant spreading widely, Korea desperately needs effective treatments. The government should make all-out efforts to secure early supply of Pfizer’s drug and should not repeat the fiasco of belated vaccine purchase.