Hydroxychloroquine, the much-touted, much-maligned drug initially championed by President Trump as a “game changer” against the coronavirus, but which was later shown to have potential risks to patients, is still being used to combat the pandemic in hospitals across the country.
Doctors at Yale New Haven Health continue to include hydroxychloroquine as a part of its initial treatment protocol for COVID-19 patients, MedScape reported Friday. The drug is given to patients for five days along with the arthritis medication tocilizumab to treat severe cases.
Dr. Near Desai told MedScape that Yale New Haven Health was prescribing the medication because it had shown potential success in treating COVID-19 and because the medication was “cheap.”
Trump began promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine on Twitter and during briefings of the coronavirus task force in mid-March, sparking a run on the medication, which was originally developed to treat malaria but also found use for patients with autoimmune diseases such as lupus. Soon thereafter, the president announced that the U.S. had purchased 29 million hydroxychloroquine pills for the national stockpile and the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization that allowed doctors to prescribe the unproven therapy while research on it continued.
“What do you have to lose?” Trump said 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.”
Two weeks later, however, the Veterans Administration released the findings of a study that showed 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.
The FDA warned that because of the risk of fatal heart arrhythmia, it should be used only in supervised clinical trials or in hospitals where patients’ conditions can be monitored.
Almost immediately, Trump stopped mentioning hydroxychloroquine altogether. Yet hospitals continue to give it to COVID-19 patients.
Veterans’ groups have been pressuring the Department of Veterans Affairs over its continued use of hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus at VA hospitals.
“We request the immediate halt of this drug for our veterans until further information on its true impact is determined,” William Schmitz, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, told the Washington Post.
The Henry Ford Health System in Detroit hopes to soon begin a randomized, double-blind study with 3,000 patients to show whether hydroxychloroquine helps prevent or slow the progress of the disease.
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