MANILA (2nd UPDATE) —Experimental COVID-19 pill molnupiravir will be available to patients of the telemedicine program of Vice President Leni Robredo's office, it said on Tuesday.
The Office of the Vice President said it signed a memorandum of agreement with QualiMed Health Network on Monday to provide assistance for referred patients prescribed with molnupiravir, an oral pill for the treatment of mild to moderate cases of COVID-19.
Under the agreement, the OVP will issue a guarantee letter under its special medical assistance program to any qualified patient referred by a volunteer doctor in the OVP's Bayanihan E-Konsulta. The patient will be further assessed and prescribed molnupiravir by QualiMed facilities.
"We are truly humbled and grateful to the QualiMed Health Network for trusting us with this partnership, helping us extend our reach in delivering aid to more of our kababayans in need," Robredo said on Facebook on Monday.
The Food and Drug Administration has issued a compassionate special permit for the use of molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, to several hospitals.
These hospitals include QualiMed facilities like those in San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan and the PGH Compound in Manila.
The first shipment of molnupiravir arrived in the Philippines last week. This is also the first delivery of the pill in Southeast Asia.
Merck's molnupiravir received its first regulatory approval globally, in the UK, on Nov. 4. It is still under review in Europe, where infections and COVID-related deaths are rapidly rising and forcing renewed lockdowns.
The European Medicines Agency last week said molnupiravir should be given early and within 5 days of first symptoms to treat adults who do not need oxygen support and are at risk of their disease worsening.
It advised against treatment during pregnancy and for women who plan to or could get pregnant, while adding that breastfeeding must also be stopped around the time of using the pill, which is to be taken twice a day for 5 days.
The EMA last month began a rolling review of the Merck pill and expects to conclude that evaluation by the end of the year.
However, an infectious disease expert called on the public to be careful in using molnupiravir.
"Long-term use has mutagenic potential. It is currently only for high-risk populations with confirmed mild/moderate COVID infection under compassionate use and only for 5 days," Dr. Edsel Salvaña wrote on Facebook Tuesday.
He said the risk-benefit ratio of monupiravir was still "uncertain" and could be "potentially harmful".
"If you have severe COVID, it doesn't really work and other meds need to be used. Never take any meds without proper medical consultation. Stay safe!" added Salvaña, also a member of the Department of Health’s Technical Advisory Group.
ROBREDO URGES SUPPORTERS: SPREAD GOOD VIBES
Robredo, who is seeking the country's top job in the 2022 elections, urged her supporters on Tuesday to "spread the love and good vibes" by making someone smile.
Her running mate Sen. Francis Pangilinan asked their supporters to wear pink, their campaign color, on Wednesday and prepare jokes, film the reaction of their loved ones, and use the hashtag #KakampinkWednesdays.
“Talagang hindi biro ang mag mahal, pero puwede nating ipakita ang pagmamahal sa pagbibiro, sa paglalagay ng ngiti sa mukha ng kapwa natin,” said Robredo, who has repeatedly asked supporters to champion love instead of divisiveness.
(It is not a joke to love, but we can show love through joking, by putting a smile on the faces of others.)
— With a report from Reuters