Another study shows hydroxychloroquine doesn't help coronavirus patients

A new study has found that hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug recommended by President Trump as a possible treatment for the coronavirus, does not help patients hospitalized with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

The research, which followed 1,376 patients suffering from symptoms of the coronavirus at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in Manhattan, found that 60 percent of those who were given hydroxychloroquine within 48 hours of being admitted were found to be more severely ill than those who did not take the drug.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health and published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study was not a randomized clinical trial, and its authors noted that while the drug did not appear to help coronavirus patients, it was not observed to harm them either.

The findings, however, come amid mounting evidence that hydroxychloroquine may not be the “game changer” drug that Trump touted at coronavirus task force briefings for much of the month of March.

The president seized on a French study of 26 COVID-19 patients that appeared to show that 10 people who took hydroxychloroquine recovered from the virus faster than those in a control group. One patient who was given the drug died from COVID-19, and three others stopped taking the medication due to side effects.

Hydroxychloroquine pills. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/AP

That evidence was all Trump needed to begin championing hydroxychloroquine.

“What do you have to lose?” Trump said when asked about the drug on April 6. “And a lot of people are saying that, and are taking it. If you’re a doctor or a nurse, a first responder, a medical person going into hospitals, they say taking it before the fact is good.”

The FDA has since issued a warning that hydroxychloroquine may cause fatal heart arrhythmia, and should be used only by doctors conducting supervised clinical trials or in hospitals where patients’ conditions can be monitored.

The Veterans Administration also released the findings of a study showing that the drug was linked to a higher rate of death among patients who received it to treat COVID-19 compared with a control group. That study, which looked at 368 male patients infected with COVID-19 who were treated with hydroxychloroquine, has yet to have a peer review.

While some hospitals continue to prescribe hydroxychloroquine as part of a treatment protocol for COVID-19 patients, most in New York City have stopped altogether.

“We know now it probably doesn’t help much,” Dr. Thomas McGinn, deputy physician in chief at Northwell Health, told Spectrum News. “We’re not recommending it as a baseline therapy anymore. It is only in a treatment protocol in a study that we’re recommending it.”

Dr. Rick Bright, former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, filed a whistleblower complaint after he said he was reassigned, in part, for his objections to a plan by the Trump administration to “flood” the New York area with hydroxychloroquine tablets.

“I rightly resisted efforts to provide an unproven drug on demand to the American public,” Bright said in an April 22 statement. “I also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”


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