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Covid Pills May Save Lives, But They Won’t End the Pandemic

While new treatments from Pfizer and Merck have the potential to keep people out of the hospital, vaccines are still the best weapon for fighting Covid.

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Illustration: Vincent Kilbride for Bloomberg Businessweek

The promise of new Covid-19 pills from Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. gives rise to the hopeful question: Is this how the pandemic ends? The best answer anyone can muster is “maybe.” No matter how effective the antiviral pills are, it will be months before we can say we’re near the end.

The pills have been shown in studies to substantially reduce the chances that a high-risk, unvaccinated person with Covid will need hospitalization. The results rightly raised hopes. Pfizer’s drug was 89% effective, and Merck’s succeeded in about 50% of patients—potentially powerful scientific breakthroughs.