By MATTHEW PERRONE
AP Health Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. health advisers have endorsed an antiviral drug from Merck to treat COVID-19. It sets the stage for an expected authorization of the first pill that Americans could take at home for the coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration panel voted that the drug’s benefits in curbing hospitalizations and deaths outweigh its risks. Those risks include potential birth defects if used during pregnancy. The FDA isn’t bound by the panel’s recommendation and is expected to make its own decision before the end of the year. Merck’s pill could provide a much-needed therapy as colder weather pushes case counts higher and U.S. officials brace for the arrival of the new omicron variant.