While experts continue to debate the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine to treat new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), thousands of severely ill coronavirus patients in New York are receiving the medication.
FDA issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for hydroxychloroquine, already approved to treat malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, for patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19.
Up to 4,000 seriously ill coronavirus patients in New York are being treated with hydroxychloroquine, Fox News reported. A New York Health Department official said the agency has shipped doses of hydroxychloroquine to 56 hospitals across the state, distributing enough “to treat 4,000 patients to date.”
Healthcare providers are often using the drug in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin (Zithromax).
However, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH, said that current studies only show anecdotal information that hydroxychloroquine works to combat COVID-19. Fauci said more testing is needed before it’s clear that the drug works against the coronavirus and is safe for COVID-19 patients, Associated Press reported.
President Donald Trump and his trade adviser, Peter Navarro are publicly promoting the drug to treat COVID-19. Trump said at a recent White House press briefing that he would ask his doctor about taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent getting COVID-19.
In addition, a majority of pharmacists said that COVID-19 patients should have access to the drug. In the National Community Pharmacists Association survey of more than 400 independent pharmacies, 83.8% said they should be able to dispense a limited supply of the drugs as long the patient has tested positive and is under a doctor’s care.
In addition, 66.8% of independent pharmacists believe the states that have restricted patient access to the drugs could be endangering patient lives. Some state boards of pharmacy and at least two governors have placed restrictions on dispensing hydroxychloroquine.
“This a well-established drug that has been in use for decades for malaria as well as other conditions. We know it can be used safely with the proper oversight of a physician and pharmacist,” said B. Douglas Hoey, RPh, CEO of NCPA. "Efforts to restrict stockpiling and hoarding are appropriate and there is limited data indicating that it may be effective against COVID-19, but Americans who are infected and their doctors have a right to try.”
However, states have a “legitimate concern about hoarding, unethical prescribing, and shortages for existing patients,” Hoey noted. “There may be some relief if hospitals choose to obtain it from the national stockpile or if pharmacies are allowed to compound the medication.”
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