The media have jumped on the fact that Donald Trump silenced top coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci when asked about the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus.
Fauci was hesitant to endorse the treatment, saying the evidence is limited at best :
In terms of science, I don’t think we can definitively say it works. The data are really just at best suggestive. There have been cases that show there may be an effect and there are others to show there’s no effect.
Fauci’s sentiment has been echoed by doctors around the world who point out that more testing is required.
So why would President Trump go as far as stockpiling 29 million pills on that kind of advice? There’s a lot of speculation, but giving the president the benefit of the doubt—it could be because there’s some evidence that it works.
One of the first reliable clinical trials of the drug came out of Wuhan just a few days ago. It showed that patients in the treatment group who were taking the anti-malaria tablets displayed significant improvements over those in the control group who took no additional medication.
A survey of Spanish doctors showed that 72% were using the pills to treat COVID-19. In Italy 55% of physicians were trying to treat the virus with the medicine. Of the 6,200 international doctors surveyed, the majority said hydroxychloroquine was the most effective COVID-19 therapy .
With that evidence in mind, the president can be forgiven for wanting to push the drug forward:
I’m seeing people dying without it…When that’s happening, they should do it. What really do we have to lose? We don’t have time to say, ‘Gee let’s take a couple of years and test it out.
But Trump’s willingness to push the medication out to the public gets murky when you consider the negatives. No one is disputing early evidence that the anti-malarial drugs may be useful in treating coronavirus, but there simply isn’t enough data to go on.
The bottom line for hydroxychloroquine is no one knows whether it’s effective in treating coronavirus and unfortunately the process for finding out takes time. Doctors like Mr. Fauci are hesitant to promote the drug as a cure without evidence because it has side effects that are potentially deadly.
Dr. Megan L. Ranney of Brown University noted that although it could work to treat some patients, it might not in others . Those details need to be ironed out before exposing the masses to the drug’s potential side effects:
There are side effects to hydroxychloroquine. It causes psychiatric symptoms, cardiac problems and a host of other bad side effects.
There are many anecdotal reports that the drug works to treat coronavirus, but there is just as much evidence that it doesn’t. A small-scale French study shows hydroxchloroquine doesn’t help resolve coronavirus cases —and that’s just one of many that claim the drug isn’t a useful treatment.
Senior Consultant Physician Dr. Joyeeta Basu says that the lack of clear evidence suggests hydroxychloroquine doesn’t have much an impact :
If it truly has a dramatic effect on the clinical course of Covid-19 we would already have evidence for that. We don’t, which tells us that hydroxychloroquine, if it even works at all, will likely be shown to have modest effects at best
Aside from questions about the drug’s effectiveness, there are other concerns about pushing it out as a treatment prematurely. Namely, it could reduce the supply of the medicine for those who actually need it. One of the reasons the approval process for hydroxychloroquine can be expedited is that it’s already an existing treatment for rheumatic diseases.
If the medication is deemed a cure to coronavirus, it may disrupt treatment for existing patients , which could further stretch healthcare resources. That might be a risk doctors are willing to take, but without evidence that the drug actually works, it’s a dangerous gamble.