Medical group endorses anti-malarial drug treatment for coronavirus patients

America’s major medical society specializing in the treatment of respiratory diseases has endorsed using hydroxychloroquine for seriously ill hospitalized coronavirus patients.

The American Thoracic Society issued guidelines Monday that suggest COVID-19 patients with pneumonia get doses of the anti-malaria drug.

“To prescribe hydroxychloroquine (or chloroquine) to hospitalized patients with COVID-19 pneumonia if all of the following apply: a) shared decision-making is possible, b) data can be collected for interim comparisons of patients who received hydroxychloroquine (or chloroquine) versus those who did not, c) the illness is sufficiently severe to warrant investigational therapy, and d) the drug is not in short supply,” the Thoracic Society said.

The use of hydroxychloroquine has been hotly debated.

President Trump has promoted its use on an experimental basis and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has agreed to provide it to thousands of seriously ill patients in New York hospitals in combination with Zithromax.

Critics have criticized the promotion of using the drug based on limited or anecdotal evidence.

The Thoracic Society said its guidelines are based on input from an international task force comprised of doctors from medical centers that are currently treating COVID-19 patients.

The medical group said evidence about the impact of hydroxychloroquine is “contradictory” but it is worth experimenting with during a public health crisis to treat very sick patients.

“We believe that in urgent situations like a pandemic, we can learn while treating by collecting real-world data,” said Dr. Kevin Wilson, chief of guidelines and documents at the American Thoracic Society.

“There are in vitro studies that suggest that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have activity against SARS-CoV-2019, the virus that causes COVID-19,” Wilson said.

But he also said several controlled trials from China and France “all have serious flaws and inconsistent findings. … Thus, the bottom line is, whether hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine confer benefits to patients with COVID-19 are unanswered questions.”

Like Trump, Cuomo said Monday giving sick COVID patients doses of hydroxychloroquine is a worthy experiment to try to save lives. 

“There has been anecdotal evidence that it is promising, that’s why we’re going ahead, doctors have to prescribe it. There are some people who have pre-existing conditions where it doesn’t work, or they’re taking medication that’s not consistent with this treatment, but anecdotally it’s been positive,” the governor said during a press briefing in Albany.

He said studies will ultimately determine the drug’s efficacy.

A top doctor with the city’s public hospital system agreed.

“We have multiple types of treatments, studies underway to see what’s working best. Many of our patients are receiving Hydroxychloroquine as part of those treatment regimens,” said Dr. Eric Wei, vice president and chief quality officer for NYC Health+Hospitals..

“I think it’s still too early to tell,” Wei said when asked of the results from use of the anti-malaria drug on coronavirus patients. “We’re still looking at the data, but right now we’re willing to try just about anything to save patients”.

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