US health regulators on Wednesday authorised the first pill against Covid-19, and President Joe Biden said it marks a “significant step forward” on the path out of the pandemic.

The pill is a Pfizer drug that Americans will be able to take at home to head off the worst effects of the virus. Biden said his administration will work with states to ensure equitable distribution.

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The drug, Paxlovid, is a faster way to treat early Covid-19 infections, though initial supplies will be extremely limited. All of the previously authorised drugs against the disease require an IV or an injection.

An antiviral pill from Merck also is expected to soon win authorisation. But Pfizer’s drug is all but certain to be the preferred option because of its mild side effects and superior effectiveness, including a nearly 90 per cent reduction in hospitalisations and deaths among patients most likely to get severe disease.