VA secretary defends use of hydroxychloroquine for veterans, claims analysis led to ‘misinformation’

Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie on Wednesday defended the department’s use of an unproven anti-malaria drug for treating patients with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, saying that the drug was only being administered for high-risk veterans. 

In a letter sent to veterans organizations, Wilkie claimed that a recent analysis of those hospitalized in Veterans Health Administration medical centers led to “misinformation” about what was taking place at its facilities. He said that hydroxychloroquine was only being given to veterans at the “highest risk prior to receiving medication.”

Wilkie also asserted that hydroxychloroquine was not an experimental drug, noting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had authorized its emergency use when clinical trials are not available. 

“VA is adhering to these guidelines, only using hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 in cases where Veteran patients and their providers determine it is medically necessary,” he said. 

Wilkie did not provide any details about how widespread the use of the anti-malaria drug is in Veterans Affairs facilities. 

The letter came just a week after an analysis submitted for publication in the New England Journal of Medicine found that two primary outcomes for COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were death and the need for mechanical ventilation. 

The study’s conclusion was based on a retrospective analysis of patients hospitalized in Veterans Health Administration medical centers with confirmed COVID-19 infections. While the study only analyzed 368 patients, it represented the largest analysis of outcomes for COVID-19 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine. The study has not been peer-reviewed. 

The findings “can accelerate our understanding of the outcomes of these drugs in COVID-19 while we await the results of the ongoing prospective trials,” the authors said. 

President Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine as a potential “game changer” in the fight to combat the coronavirus, though health officials have emphasized that not enough is known about the drug to determine its efficacy.

The FDA has yet to approve a drug or therapeutic for treating COVID-19.   

The agency earlier this month warned that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, another anti-malaria drug, should not be taken outside a hospital or clinical trial. FDA said it released the warning because of reports about COVID-19 patients experiencing serious cardiac events after taking the drugs. 

Wilkie also stressed in a call with major veterans organization that patients at their facilities were not being used as “test subjects,” according to The Associated Press.

Veterans organizations have called on the department to release more information about how it is administering the drugs. 

“Why were veterans who were receiving treatment from a federal agency being treated with an unproven and speculative drug?” Jeremy Butler, chief executive officer of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, asked, according to the AP.

Tags Donald Trump Hydroxychloroquine Robert Wilkie Veterans Administration Veterans Health Administration
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