Coronavirus: Pharmacies overwhelmed with people searching for ‘miracle drugs’ as Trump supports wild recovery claims

US president says anti-malaria drugs could be a 'game changer' - but his top experts aren't as sure

Chris Riotta
New York
Monday 23 March 2020 19:05 GMT
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Pharmacies around the world have been inundated with people searching for an unproven Covid-19 treatment after Donald Trump claimed two already available drugs could be a “game changer” when it comes to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia saw a surge of prescriptions for drugs the US president touted during a press conference last week, according to ABC News, including chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which is sold under a variety of names.

Meanwhile, pharmacists in Tijuana, Mexico told the Associated Press “a lot of people from north of the border have been coming here and buying the medications” that Mr Trump suggested could treat the novel virus. At least 35,000 Americans have contracted Covid-19 as of Monday.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy was also taking steps during the weekend to prevent residents from buying the drugs in bulk, approving an emergency regulation that limits the sale of both drugs in a unanimous vote conducted by phone.

Both drugs are used in malaria cases, and could lead to deadly side effects for people attempting to treat themselves for Covid-19. What’s more, officials warned the hoarding of such critical medications could leave patients who actually require the drugs with a severe shortage.

In Nigeria, at least two patients were rushed to local hospitals in Lagos after overdosing on chloroquine, according to Bloomberg News.

Oreoluwa Finnih, senior health assistant to the governor of Lagos, told the news outlet in a statement: “Chloroquine is still in a testing phase in combination with other medication and not yet verified as a preventive treatment or curative option.”

Leading health officials in the United States have also warned against buying into reported claims of seemingly miraculous recoveries by Covid-19 patients who were treated with a combination of the anti-malaria drugs.

Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said the drugs were not known treatments for Covid-19 during a press briefing on Friday.

“The evidence that you’re talking about … is anecdotal evidence,” he told reporters as public demand for the drugs began spiking, according to reports. “We're trying to strike a balance between making something with a potential of an effect to the American people available, at the same time that we do it under the auspices of a protocol that would give us information to determine if it's truly safe and truly effective.”

He added: “But the information that you're referring to specifically is anecdotal, it was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So you really can't make any definitive statement about it."

Still, the president has been promoting both drugs and quickly stated after the doctor spoke that he was a “big fan” of chloroquine.

“I've seen things that are impressive and we'll see,” Mr Trump said. “We're going to know, so we're going to know soon, including safety, but, you know, when you get that safety this has been prescribed for many years for people to combat malaria, which was a big problem, and it's very effective. It's a strong — it's a strong drug, so we'll see."

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