A member of the White House coronavirus task force says there is ‘no evidence’ that hydroxychloroquine can treat COVID-19.
The drug, which is most typically used to treat malaria, lupus and arthritis, has been touted by President Donald Trump, but has not proven successful in clinical trials.
In an appearance on Fox & Friends on Thursday, Dr Deborah Birx, the task force’s response coordinator, was asked about a video Trump tweeted on Monday that was later removed for ‘sharing false information.’
In the video, Dr Stella Maxwell claimed she has treated at least 350 coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine in combination with zinc and the antibiotic azithromycin with ‘100 percent success.’
Trump was widely condemned for sharing the video, in which Maxwell condemned wearing face masks, for being rife with misinformation.
Birx said that there is no scientific data to back up Maxwell’s claims.
‘We know in the randomized control of the trials to date – and there’s been several of them – that there’s no evidence that [hydroxychloroquine] improves the patients’ outcomes, whether they have mild, moderate disease, or whether they’re seriously ill in the hospital,’ she said.
Birx added: ‘There also may be a specific subgroup that does benefit, but we can’t see those in these randomized control trials.’
Earlier, this week, Trump told reporters he believes the drug works ‘in the early stages’ of COVID-19.
On Thursday, the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy announced the pharmacists, drug distributors and others would be banned from prescribing hydroxychloroquine.
Birx was then asked why the board in Ohio board would ban the medication if it had been shown to work ‘in certain cases.’
‘Because science and medicine have always been full of accounts like this,’ she replied.
‘And, that’s why you do randomized clinical trials to actually be able to compare patient to patient.’
President Trump was among the first to wax lyrical about the possible benefits of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus patients in March.
‘This would be a gift from heaven, this would be a gift from God if it works,’ he said. ‘We are going to pray to God that it does work.’
He then repeated the claims on Twitter.
‘HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains – Thank You! Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents),’ he wrote on March 21.
The study Trump referred to came from Marseille, France, in which 30 patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine for 10 days combined with azithromycin, an antibiotic.
Although very small, the study ‘showed a significant reduction of the viral carriage’ after the six days and ‘much lower average carrying duration’ compared to patients who received other treatments.
But weeks later, in a statement published online, the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (ISAC) addressed several new concerns with the research.
Officials say they found out the researchers excluded data on patients who didn’t respond well to the treatment and that they did not clarify what they meant when they said patients were ‘virologically cured.’
Trump took a two-week course of hydroxychloroquine, along with zinc and Vitamin D, after two staffers tested positive for COVID-19, and had no ill effects, according to results of his latest physical released by his doctor in June.
Federal regulators have warned against their use except in hospitals and formal studies because of the risk of side effects, especially heart rhythm problems.
Last month, the journal The Lancet posted an ‘expression of concern’ about a study it published earlier this month of nearly 15,000 COVID-19 patients on the malaria drugs that tied their use to a higher risk of dying in the hospital or developing a heartbeat problem.
Scientists have raised serious questions about the database used for that study, and its authors have launched an independent audit.
That work had a big impact: the World Health Organization suspended use of hydroxychloroquine in a study it is leading, and French officials stopped the drug’s use in hospitals.
Later the WHO said experts who reviewed safety information decided that its study could resume.