The Department of Veterans Affairs is still using a malaria drug for Covid-19, amid increasing evidence that it is ineffective, though the number of veterans receiving it has dwindled, according to news reports.
The Associated Press reported Saturday that the VA would not stop use of hydroxychloroquine, citing responses to Congress in which the department stated that it had never “encouraged or discouraged” the drug’s use. At the same time, AP reported, the department acknowledged that Secretary Robert Wilkie had been wrong to assert that the drug was shown as effective in younger veterans. In the first week of this month, VA data showed that 17 patients had received hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19, and AP estimated based on an analysis of the department’s hospital data that hundreds more had received it by early April.
Meanwhile, two large studies conducted at hospitals in the New York area have found that use of hydroxychloroquine, including in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin, did not reduce deaths among patients.
One study, conducted by researchers at the State University of New York’s Downstate Health Sciences University in Brooklyn and published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, was a retrospective cohort study of 1,438 hospitalized Covid-19 patients. Comparing data on patients who received hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin or both drugs with those who received neither, the researchers found that the drugs did not reduce the rate of patients who died in the hospital.
The SUNY Downstate study follows the publication of another, observational study conducted by researchers at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University Irving Medical Center and published in the New England Journal of Medicine the week before. That study, which included 1,376 patients, including 811 who received hydroxychloroquine, likewise failed to show a benefit in terms of the rate at which patients were intubated or died.
In a note to investors Monday, Cowen analysts Yaron Werber and Leo Ai noted that two randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine in hospitalized patients conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota would soon have peer-reviewed data. However, they wrote that they were skeptical that the studies would show a clinical benefit due to enrollment challenges and study designs that required sizable benefits to meet statistical bars for success.
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