STATEWIDE – While the Food and Drug Administration on Monday approved the emergency use of two malaria drugs to treat COVID-19, local doctors warn they are not a miracle cure as the president has suggested.
The FDA’s chief scientist said in a letter posted with the approval that it is reasonable to believe the two drugs “may be effective in treating COVID-19.”
Even so, the incident commander of Northern Light Health’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team and the medical director for Penobscot Community Health Care both want people to understand that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been proven as a treatment for coronavirus.
“These are to be used only in certain circumstances where an individual is so critically ill that we are almost doing last ditch efforts,” said Dr. James Jarvis, incident commander for Northern Light’s emergency response team.
He said patients would basically need to be at death’s door before the drugs are tried.
Jarvis said the current studies from China, Europe and the US all have very small data points, some less than 20 patients, and that this not enough information to say if the drugs work against the respiratory-borne virus.
Dr. Noah Nesin, PCHC’s medical director, said it makes sense to try the drugs that have been shown to relieve respiratory symptoms in some patients.
“This will be studied further and we’ll learn more about one, whether it’s effective; two, whether it’s safe; and three, in what circumstances it’s best used. We don’t know any of those things right now about the use of these drugs,” Nesin said.
Jarvis said a man Arizona and a woman in Europe recently died after they ingested fish tank cleaner that contained hydroxychloroquine.
The Bangor doctors also warned about another problem: if people hoard the drugs, others who depend on them — including those with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus — may not be able to find them.