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Justice and Hoyer: State asks Biden for more antibody doses; Marsh reports on new antiviral treatment pill from Merck

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice has sent a letter to President Biden asking him to approve the state’s request for more monoclonal antibody doses, the governor said Friday.

“We need ’em, and we’re not getting as many as we would like to get,” he said.

Joint Interagency Task Force Director Gen. James Hoyer provided some specifics on that.

They’ve asked for and demonstrated the demand for 3,000 doses. Last week they got 1,368 doses of the Regeneron antibody, and this week were scheduled for 1,584 doses but received only 156, he said.

“That is due to a national supply issue,” Hoyer said. Seven states with low vaccination rates have used more than 70% of the nation’s doses. “We are continuing to work it not just daily, but hourly.”

To meet demand, he said, they are shifting doses from hospitals to local infusion sites, where people who need the doses can get them right away.

One reporter noted that all seven states are red states and asked Justice if it’s political. He said, “Of course it’s politics, and it’s disgraceful.” He later added his opinion that much of what’s going on with this and with infrastructure bill negotiations in Congress is tied to the 2022 midterm elections.

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh passed along news of Merck’s announcement of a new investigational antiviral pill called molnupiravir that reduced the risk of hospitalization and death by 50% for patients in clinical trials.

Through Day 29 of the trial, Merck said, no deaths were reported in mild-to-moderate COVID patients who received molnupiravir, as compared to eight deaths in patients who received a placebo.

Marsh said the trial was planned to enroll 1,000 patients, but after seeing the success, an independent data monitoring committee, in consultation with the FDA, stopped it at after just 775 patients. It plans to submit an application for Emergency Use Authorization to the FDA as soon as possible and to submit marketing applications to other regulatory bodies worldwide.

Marsh said the pill can be prescribed and taken at home — two pills a day for five days. “This is really exciting,” he said, adding that he expects to see activity on the pill in the next month-to-two-months, and hopes it will turn out to be another effective tool.

He and Hoyer emphasized that the pill would just be a treatment and not a substitute for a preventative vaccine.

Hoyer said, “We know the vaccine works.”

In his early military days in the 1980s, Hoyer said, he was going to airborne school to become a paratrooper. If he’d been offered a choice between one that works 50% of the time and one that works more than 99%, “I’m going to want that one, and that’s the vaccine.”

Discussing the COVID numbers, Justice said 80 more people died since Wednesday.

“I do believe we’re at the peak of the surge,” he cautioned. “We really haven’t started down yet.” Numbers may go higher yet, he added, but he thinks we’re close.

Active cases are up a bit, from 13,736 Wednesday to 14,014. There were 1,645 new cases. Hospitalizations, ICU cases and ventilator cases all dipped slightly: 958, 269 and 172, respectively.

Mandates remain off the table, he said again. “I’ve said it a million times, no mandate on vaccination from my end will happen, no way. I do stand rock-solid on everyone’s freedom. But that doesn’t mean I can’t try to educate and encourage all, because without any question, the more we vaccinate, the less will die.”

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