The Case for Caution
Promise doesn’t mean proof, and the small studies carried out so far amount to “anecdotal” evidence, according to Anthony Fauci, head of infectious diseases at the US National Institutes of Health.
What’s more, a small Chinese study on 30 patients that was also published this month found HCQ was no better than standard care — meaning treating the symptoms via bed rest, fluids and so on — adding a note of caution to the discourse.
The only way to know for sure is to carry out randomized clinical trials, scientists say. Such experiments are considered the gold standard in the field but last months or years and involve thousands of patients, often from around the world.
Patients are assigned at random to either receive the drug under investigation or a placebo, and the studies are “blinded” meaning the participants and their doctors are unaware which group they are in, to further reduce bias.
Overhyping medicine can have several unintended effects, warn experts.
“One of the unintended consequences are drug shortages of chloroquine, for people that need to manage their rheumatoid arthritis, for example,” Peter Pitts, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration told AFP.
A few countries are taking a cautious approach. Spain, for example, announced Monday said that “until further notice” these arthritis and lupus patients would be given priority access to the drug.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran meanwhile said the compounds can be used only to treat the most severe cases of COVID-19.
Another problem is that people may try to self-medicate. A US man from Arizona died this week after ingesting a form of chloroquine intended to fight aquatic parasites.