- 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)
Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini
- A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
- Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
- After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.
Hines Defrauds Government
A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.
David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.
The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.
According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.
“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.
Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds
Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.
Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.
In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini
See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)
Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March
- A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
- Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
- In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
- No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.
Judge Cahill Postpones Trial
The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.
Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.
The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.
All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.
In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.
“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.
A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.
The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.
The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.
For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.
Uncertainty Around Sentencing
Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.
“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.
Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.
Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.
In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.
Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.
See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated
- Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
- Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program.
- Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
- Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery
Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.
DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.
The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.
Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.
DeWine Defends Lottery
Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”
DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.
“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”
Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally.
Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April.