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It seemed like a rare instance of good news in big doses last week when pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that a new drug called molnupiravir had been shown in tests to cut hospitalizations and deaths by half. The simple, easy-to-take pill would give doctors “a whole new, easy-to-use weapon” in the fight against Covid-19, as the AP put it.

Press observers were ecstatic. Headlines ranged from “Merck pill seen as ‘huge advance’” (Reuters) to “Momentum From Potential Covid-19 Drug Stays Intact” (Yahoo!) to “Everything You Need to Know About Merck’s Game-Changing Covid Pill” (Bloomberg). Nearly every story cited data from Merck’s own press release, which claimed studies had shown an experimental oral drug had tremendous promise...the federal government has already agreed to pay $1.2 billion for a supply of molnupiravir, another ostensibly simple oral cure for a devastating virus.

...it’s obviously very possible that molnupiravir turns out to be the game-changer its developers claim it is. If that’s the case, a lot of officials and journalists will have a lot of questions to answer, since this drug’s release may have been delayed by six months or more, after it became collateral damage last year to yet another idiotic Trump/anti-Trump culture war drama.

“It could have been out six months ago,” says Dr. Robert Kadlec, former assistant secretary for preparedness and response (ASPR) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). “It would have been a game-changer… It would have saved tens of thousands of lives.”

The story about molnupiravir’s serpentine route toward approval is a textbook example of how politicians and press in the Trump era have fallen into a pattern of treating the exact same set of facts in different, even opposite ways, depending on whom they perceive to be the beneficiary of news.

Last year, when Trump was president, molnupiravir was bad, dangerous science, an evil twin to hydroxychloroquine...

Now, it’s a pharmaceutical superhero, coming to the rescue — literally a Thor-inspired drug, coming to “hammer” COVID...

If the drug does turn out to prevent death, a not-insignificant portion of the lives that were lost waiting for its arrival will be on the politicians and press figures who railed against it.

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