VA hospitals mostly drop hydroxychloroquine as coronavirus treatment
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has almost completely stopped prescribing an anti-malaria drug touted by President Trump to veterans with COVID-19 after studies questioned its efficacy in treating the disease.
VA hospitals “ratcheted” down the use of hydroxychloroquine as other treatments became available, Secretary Robert Wilkie told Congress on Thursday. It was prescribed only three times last week.
Wilkie previously told Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that the VA treated 1,300 veterans with the drug.
He defended the department’s use of hydroxychloroquine Thursday during a House Appropriations Veterans Affairs subcommittee hearing.
“Even though I am not a medical person — I’m a military person — I understand that there has to be hope. You can’t look at a patient and say we can’t give you hope,” Wilkie said.
“Everyone is learning on this in real time and we have followed FDA guidelines on this,” he added.
The VA is now mostly using remdesivir and convalescent plasma, Wilkie said, after studies showed the treatments had a positive effect in COVID-19 patients.
“We ratcheted that down as we brought more treatments on online and I expect that trend to continue in the future but we will our mission was to preserve and protect life,” he said.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and member of the White House coronavirus task force, told CNN this week the data is now clear that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work to treat COVID-19.
“There was suspicion of that for a while, but as data comes in, it becomes more clear,” Fauci said.
A study of 96,000 COVID-19 patients published last week found patients who took the drug had a higher risk of death than those who did not.
People who took the drug also were also more likely to experience heart problems. The World Health Organization temporarily paused its clinical trial of the drug as a COVID-19 treatment after the study was released.
As drug companies race to develop a treatment for COVID-19, doctors and scientists have looked to existing drugs that make be effective at treating the disease.
The most promising so far has been remdesivir — a drug that was developed to treat Ebola but was found ineffective. Limited studies have shown the drug speeds the time to recovery for some COVID-19 patients.
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