- Since last week, President Donald Trump has lauded chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as potential treatment options for COVID-19.
- While there is some evidence that supports their effectiveness against the virus, health officials warn that not enough testing has been done to approve their widespread use.
- Still, people have begun trying to acquire the potential antiviral, leading to shortages for people who need it for it’s already approved treatments for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
Shortages of Hydroxychloroquine for People Who Need It
While panic buying has to lead to toilet paper and cleaning supplies shortages across the nation, it’s now also making it harder for some people to get their hands on medicine they’ve taken for years.
An influx of worried Americans are rushing to get ahold of hydroxychloroquine, a drug that treats diseases and disorders such as malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. It’s also been hailed by President Donald Trump as an effective drug against COVID-19.
But that’s still unknown.
While there is evidence to support hydroxychloroquine or the similarly-touted chloroquine’s effectiveness against the pandemic, there is currently still not enough evidence to prove it should be used as a widespread treatment against COVID-19.
Even though both drugs have received approval from the Food and Drug Administration, the approvals are not for COVID-19. To be used on a widespread basis, the drugs would need approval following clinical trials.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some people from trying to acquire the potential antiviral by any means possible.
“Well it finally happened to me,” pharmacist Katherine Rowland said on Twitter. “A dentist just tried to call in scripts for hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin for himself, his wife, & another couple (friends). NOPE. I have patients with lupus that have been on [hydroxychloroquine] for YEARS and now can’t get it because it’s on backorder.”
According to the University of Utah, several doctors tried writing prescriptions for both themselves and for family friends to hoard in case they contracted the virus. The university refused to fill their prescriptions.
Because of stories like that, however, many people who need the drug for other conditions are finding themselves without.
According to The New York Times, 47-year-old Toni Grimes was told on Monday that she would have to wait until March 30 to refill her chloroquine prescription meant to treat her lupus. She said this is the first time she hasn’t been able to get her prescription refilled in the 13 years she’s been on it.
Grimes also runs a Phoenix-area Lupus Foundation support group and said another member also has yet to receive their refill, as well.
Such shortages have spurred the Lupus Foundation to release a statement, reading:
“The Foundation applauds the commitment of pharmaceutical companies that have pledged to increase production and supply of [vital] medications. We call on all manufacturers of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to do the same. However, increased production must not solely be done for the purpose of responding to COVID-19, but also to meet the existing needs of people with lupus.”
In fact, the scramble to obtain these drugs has grown so rapidly that four of the seven companies that make generic hydroxychloroquine are facing shortages. While the other three could have provided some cushion, they previously stopped making the drug altogether.
Because of the shortages, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has banned the hoarding of these drugs. Now, people in Ohio can’t buy it unless they have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or a confirmed case of COVID-19.
People Are Dying Because They’re Self-Medicating
Ultimately, that may prove to be a beneficial move not only for people in Ohio who need these drugs but also for the people who don’t.
While not in the United States, reportedly, three people in Nigeria have all overdosed on the drug after self-medicating.
Because of that, Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control issued a statement urgently warning people not to self-medicate, as such a move could lead to harm or even potential death.
In the U.S, an Arizona man died after reportedly ingesting chloroquine; however, instead of using the medical form of chloroquine, both this man and his wife took chloroquine that was supposed to be used to treat parasite infections for fish.
That woman is still alive, but she’s in critical care.
In an interview with NBC News, she said she and her husband—both of whom were in their 60’s—took it after watching several reports on television, including watching Trump laud the drug from the White House Press Room.
“I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, ‘Hey, isn’t that the stuff they’re talking about on TV?'” she said. “We were afraid of getting sick.”
Unfortunately, this couple’s goals were flawed from the start. Neither hydroxychloroquine nor chloroquine are being used as vaccines; rather, they are being investigated as potential antivirals. The difference here is that while vaccines prevent a person from getting the disease, antivirals are only meant to treat the disease after you already get it.
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine in Clinical Trials
For widespread use, scientists need to prove that these drugs are not only effective against COVID-19 but also that the benefits outweigh the risks.
While this is a normal goal for any drug, scientists are playing especially close attention to these drugs as governments try to rapidly push them through clinical testing.
“Chloroquine is an extremely toxic drug with a terrible side effect profile,” Meghan May, a microbiologist at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a written email to The New York Times. “Hydroxychloroquine is far safer, but its side effects are still significant. If it is not abundantly clear that it is beneficial, giving this drug to a critically ill patient feels risky.”
Those side effects include heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure, as well as muscle or nerve damage.
As reported in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers found evidence that hydroxychloroquine impedes the coronavirus’ ability to enter cells; however, that alone doesn’t mean it would do the same thing in a person or that a person could tolerate the doses used in the lab.
In a clinical trial conducted in February, scientists in China reported that chloroquine helped more than 100 patients at 10 hospitals. Because of that, the drug reportedly saw widespread use both there and in South Korea.
Still, this trial is also not enough to prove chloroquine’s effectiveness against COVID-19. Reportedly, with this study, the treated patients all had various degrees of the illness and were all treated with different doses for different amounts of time.
The trial also didn’t contain any control groups, which means that it’s also possible people could have just recovered on their own without the drug.
Another study from France has also captured many eager ears, including Trump’s. There, doctors gave hydroxychloroquine to 26 people who had been infected with the coronavirus.
Of those 26 people, six were also given an antibiotic called azithromycin, but before that study was completed, six other people dropped out. Of those, three people wound up in intensive care and one died. That’s not necessarily to say chloroquine killed them, because like that study from China, there was a lot of variation between each case. Some had been asymptomatic while others were symptomatic.
At the end of the trial, none of the six patients who had received both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin had detectable levels of the virus. Meanwhile, over half who had received only hydroxychloroquine had no detectable levels, and only 12.5% of people who received neither drug had no detectable levels.
Once again, this single trial or even all three studies together are not enough to prove the effectiveness of these two drugs. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci has called such trials only anecdotal at the moment. In fact, clinical trials could take months.
Trump’s Calls for Chloroquine and Hydroxyquine
Scientists have been eyeing these drugs as potential treatments for most of the outbreak’s lifespan, but their names gained household usage after Trump announced last week that he was asking the FDA to cut “red tape” around their usage.
“It’s very powerful, but the nice part is that it’s been around for a long time so we know that if things don’t go as planned, it’s not going to kill anybody,” Trump said of chloroquine on Thursday.
Over the weekend, Trump continued to prop up those drugs, saying on Twitter, “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine… Hopefully they will….be put in use IMMEDIATELY. PEOPLE ARE DYING, MOVE FAST, and GOD BLESS EVERYONE!”
Trump announced Monday that the federal government was working to obtain large quantities of chloroquine. It has already received 3 million doses from Bayer.
On Tuesday, New York state began two trials, one focusing on chloroquine and another focusing on hydroxychloroquine with the azithromycin.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NBC News) (Politico)
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.