- 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)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.