News & Opinion | August 9, 2020 4:22 pm

Where Does the Debate Around Hydroxychloroquine Currently Stand?

The search for the best treatment for COVID-19

A pharmacist displays a box of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) tablets in his store in Hyderabad.
NOAH SEELAM / AFP via Getty Images

For people with malaria, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, hydroxychloroquine can be a crucial part of their treatment — and even a lifesaving one. Its efficacy when dealing with autoimmune diseases is not in doubt.

But there are a few things connected with hydroxychloroquine that have sparked debates in the worlds of medicine, science and politics of late. Specifically, over whether hydroxychloroquine is an effective treatment for COVID-19. The debates are still being had, with heated arguments made on both sides.

Most recently, New York City Councilman Paul Vallone (D) credited hydroxychloroquine for helping him to recover after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier this year.

“My doctor prescribed it. My pharmacy had it,” Vallone told the New York Post. “Took it that day and within two to three days I was able to breathe.” It’s worth noting that Vallone also has an autoimmune condition, sarcoidosis, which put him at an increased risk from COVID-19. Sarcoidosis is also one of the conditions that hydroxychloroquine can be used to treat.

Questions persist about hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness in dealing with the coronavirus, however. Newsweek article published on Friday noted the release of a new study with sobering findings:

Over 100 people in the U.S. died in the first half of 2020 after taking the anti-malarial medicine hydroxychloroquine or related drugs while sick with COVID-19…

The FDA has also called for caution regarding the use of hydroxychloroquine against the coronavirus, citing potential side effects that could result from such treatment. Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx have both taken a skeptical position regarding its use in treating COVID-19. In a recent interview for BBC News, Fauci said, “[T]he overwhelming body of data from trials that were well run, randomized placebo controlled trials, indicate that hydroxychloroquine is not effective in treating coronavirus disease.”

As scientists learn more about COVID-19, the debate over the best method (or methods) to treat it continues. A recent op-ed in The Hill called for hydroxychloroquine to be used in more treatments of the coronavirus, and cited a Henry Ford Health System study as supporting its argument. That study noted that, of over 2,500 patients, “13% of those treated with hydroxychloroquine alone died compared to 26.4% not treated with hydroxychloroquine.”

While the search for an effective vaccine for COVID-19 remains at the forefront of many people’s minds, the hunt for the most effective treatment is equally important. And thus, the debate over hydroxychloroquine continues, with high-profile arguments being made on both sides.

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