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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Medical experts are calling an experimental anti-viral pill developed by Merck and Company a serious game changer in the fight against COVID-19.

Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist with Baptist Memorial Healthcare, says this pill is the latest potential weapon in the fight against COVID-19, a battle that seems to have no end.

“It is the first therapy that we might have that would be a simple pill we could give someone early on in disease to help them avoid more serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Threlkeld said. “Health care workers are just very, very, very exhausted at watching people die and increasingly those deaths are unnecessary and they just don’t make any sense.”

Threlkeld says clinical trials have been so successful that Merck is seeking emergency use authorization as soon as possible from the FDA.

But Threlkeld, like many in the medical field, worry some people will see the pill as a substitute for getting vaccinated, even though it’s not.

“It’s a potentially dangerous thing, because if you give me two interventions—the vaccine intervention gives a 95 percent, or so, plus protection against death and severe disease right now. Why would I trade that to wait around for a 50 percent protection that you would get from the pill?” Threlkeld said.

Threlkeld calls the pill a “hedge” against potential resistance to vaccine efficacy, which has, in his words, “waned” a bit and that’s why a booster shot has been approved.

Tourists Charles and Charlene Rainone are visiting Memphis from New York. Both have been vaccinated and believe the pill is a giant step forward.

“I think anything that they come up with that helps fight this virus, to get our country back on its feet working, I’m all for it,” Charles Rainone said.

If approved, Merck expects to mass produce the pill by the end of the year.