No, Merck and Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pills are not currently for children

Pfizer and Merck have developed pills aimed at treating adults with COVID-19. But the drugs have not yet been studied on children.

Pfizer and Merck have developed pills aimed at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. Both drugmakers have applied for emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The pills are intended to treat people already infected with COVID-19, not be a vaccine replacement.

Viewer Sandra emailed the VERIFY team, asking if Merck or Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pills can be given to children.

THE QUESTION

Are Merck and Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pills currently for children?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, Merck and Pfizer’s COVID-19 treatment pills are currently not for children.

WHAT WE FOUND

Merck and Pfizer studied their COVID-19 pills in trials similar to how the vaccines were developed.

A study of Merck’s pills shows they reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 30% among high-risk, unvaccinated volunteers. Pfizer said that, in clinical trials, people who began its pill treatment within three days of showing symptoms had an 89% reduction in risk of COVID-19-related hospitalization or death compared to people who received a placebo.

But the efficacy of those pill treatments has only been studied in adults – not children. Therefore, the FDA can only consider authorizing the pills for adults.

Researchers often start with adults and then work backward to study drugs on children, according to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, a health care organization in Los Angeles.

“Trials for children require special ethical and clinical considerations and have to meet a higher standard before they can start recruiting participants,” said Dr. Moshe Arditi, academic director of the division of pediatric infectious diseases allergy and immunology at Cedars-Sinai.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the FDA note that children are not “small adults.” Therefore, making a drug that’s safe and effective for children isn’t as simple as just lowering the dosage.

“Their bodies work in very different ways and they often undergo many changes as they grow from infancy towards adolescence and adulthood,” the WHO said. “Because their bodies work differently, it’s important to create child-specific medicines and treatments instead of just modifying adult doses and therapies.”

It’s not known when pills that treat COVID-19 will be available for children. Pfizer told VERIFY via email that it hasn’t yet determined a timeline to begin studying a pill treatment for children.

More from VERIFY: No, Pfizer’s COVID-19 pill treatment is not a vaccine replacement

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