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Thursday, April 23, 2020
NIH Recommends Against Hydroxychloroquine
Three weeks ago, President Trump was touting the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine combined with azithromycin as an effective treatment against COVID-19. The drug cocktail looked so promising that the FDA authorized emergency use of the combination as an experimental treatment for Coronavirus patients. Now more data is in and the National Institutes of Health are recommending that doctors do not use the drugs.
A panel convened by the NIH to study the effects of the drugs found that patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine were no less likely to need mechanical ventilation and actually had higher death rates than patients who did not use the drug. The Veterans Administration study of 368 US veterans has not yet been peer-reviewed but is considered reliable.
“It’s all based on the data,” panel member Dr. Susan Swindells, a professor in the department of internal medicine at the University of Nebraska College of Medine, told NPR. “We just plowed through everything that was, and apart from supportive care, there wasn’t anything that was working terribly well.”
In the study, some patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine alone (HC), some got the azithromycin cocktail (HC+AZ), and a control group (no HC) got neither. The results were that death rates were higher for the two HC groups:
HC – 27.8 percent
HC+AZ – 22.1 percent
No HC – 11.4 percent
The study also found that the need for ventilators was similar between the three groups:
HC – 13.3 percent
HC+AZ – 6.9 percent
No HC – 14.1 percent
As a result of the findings, the study’s authors write, “We found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with Covid-19. An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone.”
As we noted three weeks ago, hydroxychloroquine has numerous well-known side effects. One of the most dangerous of these is the possibility of an abnormal heart rhythm that can be particularly dangerous in patients with underlying heart conditions.
The president, who has not mentioned the drug in recent days, meant well in touting the experimental treatment, but the difference between the president’s exuberance and reality underscores the need to not get too far ahead of the science. It can be demoralizing to offer false hope, even if well-intentioned, and such errors further erode the president’s credibility.
There will no doubt be further studies of hydroxychloroquine, but it appears that humanity will have to look elsewhere for an effective treatment against COVID-19. The disappointing results of the study should be a lesson to all who jump on the bandwagon of unproven treatments based on anecdotal evidence.