At one point, near the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the federal government ordered agencies to stockpile the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine on the theory that the drug could prevent or, at least, mitigate the symptoms of COVID-19.
Now that the FDA believes hydroxychloroquine is no longer a true treatment for the disease, the federal government is stuck with more than 60 million doses of the drug in several large stockpiles, according to CNN.
“The government started stockpiling donated hydroxychloroquine in late March after President Trump touted it as ‘very encouraging’ and ‘very powerful’ and a ‘game-changer,'” the outlet said Thursday.
Indeed, at the time hydroxychloroquine seemed like a promising treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that migrated to the United States, like from China, in early 2020. Early studies and use of the drug showed good results, and, in many cases, patients who tested positive for COVID-19 and were treated early with hydroxychloroquine seemed less likely to develop the “cytokine storm” that landed many COVID-19 sufferers in intensive care wards.
Many health care providers stopped prescribing hydroxychloroquine after a study seemed to show that the drug produced markedly worse results in COVID-19 patients than non-treatment. That study was later retracted, but not before doctors discovered other widely available drugs, including a generic steroid treatment, produced better results in coronavirus patients than hydroxychloroquine.
Monday, the FDA even “revoked its emergency use authorization to use the drug to treat Covid-19, saying there was ‘no reason to believe’ the drug was effective against the virus, and that it increased the risk of side effects, including heart problems,” per CNN.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services told media on Thursday that that leaves the National Strategic Stockpile with 63 million doses of hydroxychloroquine and an additional 2 million doses of another, stronger anti-malarial chloroquine, which has similar therapeutic effects to hydroxychloroquine but far worse side effects.
The drug is still useful. It’s approved by the FDA to treat a number of illnesses, including several auto-immune diseases, and the government says it will release the drugs either back to the pharmaceutical companies that provided them or donate them to healthcare providers.
“HHS is working with the companies that donated the product to determine the available options for the product that remains in the Strategic National Stockpile,” the HHS said in a statement to media.
“As of Monday, the government has distributed 31 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to state and local health departments, hospitals and research institutions; 63 million tablets remain,” The New York Times added. “Officials are working with the companies that donated the drugs to ‘determine the available options’ for the products.”
Although the president’s detractors were quick to tell outlets like the New York Times that the stockpile was evidence of a massive Trump administration, others suggested that pandemics do breed mistakes. At this point, the administration is more focused on encouraging the development of a vaccine to treat the novel coronavirus, and other drugs are showing promise.
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