FDA Approves Anti-Malarial Drugs Chloroquine And Hydroxychloroquine For Emergency Coronavirus Treatment

Hydroxychloroquine Sulfate Medication Illustration

In this photo illustration a pack of Hydroxychloroquine Sulfate medication is held up on March 26, … [+] 2020 in London, United Kingdom. U.S. President Donald Trump recently promoted Hydroxychloroquine, a common anti-malaria drug, as a potential treatment for COVID-19 when combined with the antibiotic azithromycin.

Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images

Topline: The Food and Drug Administration on Sunday issued an emergency authorization for experimental coronavirus treatments using chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, anti-malaria drugs touted by President Donald Trump despite inconclusive clinical proof of their effectiveness. 

  • The Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine products can “be distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalized teen and adult patients with Covid-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible.”
  • HHS said Germany’s Sandoz has already given 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to the Strategic National Stockpile, the federal government’s supply of medical supplies for public health emergencies, while Bayer has donated 1 million doses of chloroquine.
  • The agency is fast-tracking a process that usually takes years while the FDA conducts clinical trials in New York, a hotspot for the virus. 
  • HHS said the emergency authorization was issued because the potential benefits of the product outweigh the risks and acknowledged that “anecdotal reports suggest that these drugs may offer some benefit in the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but “clinical trials are needed to provide scientific evidence that these treatments are effective.”
  • Trump had falsely said before the FDA had approved the drugs before Sunday. 
  • Confusion over their use has led some Americans to seek over-the-counter replacements, such as an Arizona man who bought a non-pharmaceutical form of chloroquine phosphate, a common chemical used to clean fish tanks, which killed him. 
  • The CDC warns against taking non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate without a prescription and supervision of a healthcare provider because it “can cause serious health consequences, including death.”

Key background: Trump continues to praise the anti-malarial drugs in daily press briefings, Fox News has devoted segments to the drugs’ potential benefits and right-wing figures, including the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Turning Points USA founder Charlie Kirk have promoted chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as coronavirus cures. Twitter eventually removed a Giuliani tweet that falsely said “hydroxychloroquine has been shown to have a 100% effective rate treating Covid-19.” There is no proven cure or vaccine for the coronavirus.

News peg: Scientists hope chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine—decades-old drugs that are used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis—may be used to treat the coronavirus, but early studies have provided mixed evidence proving their effectiveness and the drugs may have risks such as vision problems or cardiac arrest. The frenzy surrounding the treatment has caused some doctors to hoard hydroxychloroquine—which is sold under the brand name Plaquenil—by writing prescriptions for themselves or for their families. Some state pharmacy boards have issued rules limiting prescriptions, including Texas, Louisiana, Ohio and North Carolina.

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