A panel of experts called by US government’s top infections diseases agency on Tuesday recommended against the use of a combination of an antimalarial drug and an antibiotic that President Donald Trump has touted as a potential “game-changer” in treating Covid-19.
The experts’ panel said in guidelines for Covid-19 treatment that except for the purposes of clinical trials it “recommends against” the use of the antimalarial drug Hydroxychloroquine plus Azithromycin, the antibiotic, “because of the potential for toxicities”.
But it left open the use of Hydroxychloroquine or another version of it, Chloroquine, by itself, saying there is insufficient data to recommend for or against its use, but warned clinicians that if they did administer it, they should “monitor the patient for adverse effect”.
Also, an analysis published Tuesday on the use of Hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients in US Veteran Affairs hospitals showed no benefits and caused more deaths. Researchers and experts have said the study was not rigorous enough, and more data is required.
The panel of experts that issued the guidelines was convened by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a federal agency headed by Anthony Fauci, a member of President Trump’s White House task force on the coronavirus outbreak.
Fauci had previously, and repeatedly, cautioned against overestimating the benefits of the drug, or the combination, arguing there was no tested evidence it works against Covid-19. And he had been blunt about it, making his case from the podium of the White House daily briefing by the task force with the president looking on.
Fauci did not attend the Tuesday briefing. When asked, Trump said he had not seen the guidelines.
The president has been an outspoken advocate of the antimalarial drug by itself and in combination with the antibiotic. “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine,” he wrote in a tweet on March 21.
The president pressed in tweets and remarks to reporters despite public pushback from his experts. A key part of his argument wast: “What do you have to lose”. The drug, Hydroxychloroquine, had been proven to be safe for for decades of being prescribed to malaria patients and even if ti did not work on a Covid-19 patient it will do them no harm.
The panel experts has concluded it can be harmful in combination with the antibiotic. On its own, the drug has been allowed for clinical trials, which are currently underway on Covid-19 patients in New York, the epicenter of the American outbreak that infected 824,438 people all over the country and killed 45,052 by Tuesday night.
India lifted restrictions on the export of a bunch of drugs this month to allow a consignment of Hydroxychloroquine to ordered by the United States at the urgent request by President Trump to Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month. India is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of the medicine and has deployed it for large-scale use as a prophylactic for healthcare workers.
Hydroxychloroquine’s efficacy against the coronavirus has faced worldwide scrutiny and it has not fared very well. Hospitals in Sweden stopped using Chloroquine earlier this month after reports of severe side effects and researchers in Brazil aborted a trial after the death of patients administered the drug.