Viral claim misrepresents Mayo Clinic guidance on hydroxychloroquine | Fact check

The claim: Mayo Clinic updated guidance to say hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19

A Sept. 25 Instagram post (direct link, archive link) shows a screenshot of a blog post with a supposed guideline change at one of the country's top hospitals.

“Mayo Clinic updates guidance, now states hydroxychloroquine is effective against COVID-19,” reads the headline in the image.

It was liked more than 300 times in two days.

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Our rating: False

There was no such update. A sentence saying hydroxychloroquine may be used to treat COVID-19 in some patients was posted on the Mayo Clinic's website in 2020, but the page was removed after coming to light on social media. The hospital's doctors say they do not recommend the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.

Key sentence traced to May 2020

Hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, was authorized as a COVID-19 treatment by the Food and Drug Administration in late March 2020 after small studies suggested it could be effective against it. The FDA revoked its emergency use authorization two months later after concluding it not only was likely ineffective but also could cause heart complications.

A section of the Mayo Clinic website includes a directory that lists hundreds of individual medications and their suggested uses. A line in one of those entries was the source of a claim circulating on social media.

The photo in the Instagram post shows the headline of a post on a blog run by conservative commentator Tim Pool. That story claims part of the entry for that drug had been updated to state: “Hydroxychloroquine may also be used to treat coronavirus (COVID-19) in certain hospitalized patients.”

But that sentence wasn’t new.

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It had been included on the hospital's hydroxychloroquine page for more than three years. Archived versions of the website show it was not part of the entry on May 7, 2020, but had been added by May 22, 2020.

The hydroxychloroquine reference remained on the site until late September 2023, when it was taken down after receiving attention on social media. It was replaced by a story explaining why the hospital's doctors do not recommend the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.

The new story was written by Mayo Clinic staff. That is significant because the old one was provided by an outside vendor, hospital spokesperson Kristyn Jacobson said in an email to USA TODAY.

Jacobson did not respond to questions about how the sentence at the root of the claim was posted on the hospital's website in the first place and how it remained there for three years.

Archived versions of the page attributed that drug information to the Micromedex medical research database from Merative, a company formerly known as IBM Watson Health. USA TODAY reached out to a Merative spokesperson but did not immediately receive a response.

A disclaimer on the hospital’s website says the Micromedex entries should not be taken as medical advice and should be used only as an educational aid.

Claims about hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment have persisted on social media since the earliest days of the pandemic.

USA TODAY reached out to the blog’s author and the social media user who shared the post but did not immediately receive responses.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Post misrepresents Mayo Clinic hydroxychloroquine stance | Fact check