Health Care

Schumer demands answers in use of unproven coronavirus drug on veterans

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide further answers on the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine in the treatment of veterans for coronavirus.

“There are concerns that they are using this drug when the medical evidence says it doesn’t help and could hurt,” Schumer told The Associated Press, calling on VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to disclose whether the Trump administration or the White House pressured the agency to use the drug. He also said Wilkie must address a recent analysis of VA data suggesting patients were more likely to die when treated with the drug than with standard care.

Schumer told the AP he remains concerned about whether the VA has conducted “clandestine studies to determine whether hydroxychloroquine was effective without their permission.”

“These are people who risked their lives for us,” he said. “They should be treated only with the utmost dignity, respect and high standards of care.”

President Trump spent weeks promoting the drug, frequently prescribed for lupus and arthritis patients, as a possible treatment for the virus, and former Health and Human Services official Richard Bright alleged in a whistleblower complaint last week that the administration explored flooding virus hot spots in New York and New Jersey with it.

Wilkie has said the drug was only administered to consenting patients where medically appropriate and denied hydroxychloroquine was tested on veterans, but has declined to say whether the VA has developed or issued guidance for usage of the drug to patients or doctors. 

“VA has used hydroxychloroquine for years to treat a number of non-COVID related conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and the bulk of the order referenced will be used for those purposes,” a VA spokesperson told The Hill in a statement.

In certain cases, medical providers and patients want to try hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, and FDA guidance, which VA follows, permits that.

Former VA Secretary David Shulkin also urged caution on use of the drug Sunday, tweeting “with studies showing no benefit, VA should restrict use exclusively to clinical trials.”

Tags Chuck Schumer Coronavirus David Shulkin Donald Trump Robert Wilkie

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