CDC removes guidance on drugs touted by Trump to treat coronavirus

A bottle of Hydroxychloroquine
A pharmacist shows a bottle of the drug hydroxychloroquine on Monday, April 6, 2020, in Oakland, Calif. President Donald Trump and his administration kept up their out-sized promotion Monday of an malaria drug not yet officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus, even though scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19. Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro championed hydroxychloroquine in television interviews a day after the president publicly put his faith in the medication to lessen the toll of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has removed from its website guidelines for doctors on how to prescribe two antimalarial drugs that President Donald Trump has touted as potential treatments for the novel coronavirus.

Trump has been pressing federal health officials to make the drugs — hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine — more widely available, despite little reliable evidence that they are effective at treating the virus.

The updated CDC guidance, published Tuesday, is shorter and no longer gives dosage information about the drugs.

CNN has reached out to the CDC for comment.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat coronavirus. Nevertheless, on Saturday the FDA issued an emergency use authorization to distribute the two drugs from the national stockpile to treat patients hospitalized with Covid-19.

The CDC says the drugs are under investigation in clinical trials.

“Anecdotal reports suggest that these drugs may offer some benefit in the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients,” said the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in a statement Sunday.

But some experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have warned the administration that the drug is unproven and that there are dangers in promoting it before data backs up its efficacy.

There was a heated disagreement in the White House over the weekend about the effectiveness of the unproven drugs.

States are accruing doses of the drugs

Even though the drugs have not yet proven safe for preventing or treating coronavirus, some states are gathering doses for their patients.

Pharmaceutical company Amneal has donated 200,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine to the Georgia Department of Public Health, US Rep. Doug Collins said Tuesday. He described the donation as a step toward treatment.

“Proud to have worked with Amneal Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to help secure 200,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine for @GaDPH! This medication could potentially save thousands of lives across our state. Thank you, Amneal, for this incredible donation!” Collins tweeted.

Florida is scheduled to receive a million doses of the drug Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said. DeSantis praised the drug, with the caveat that the virus is so new that there are no approved treatments yet.

Who could benefit from them

Under the FDA’s emergency use authorization, hydroxychloroquine can be administered to patients who are hospitalized and weigh at least 110 pounds.

But in a Facebook Live conversation with Mark Zuckerberg and Dr. Priscilla Chan on Tuesday, virologist and infectious disease specialist Dr. Don Ganem questioned if the drug would be more effective if given to patients with more mild symptoms.

“Even if it does work, is the very sick person in the ICU the best person to be using that drug?” Ganem said.

By the time patients are typically transferred to the ICU, they are usually many days into the infection and viral replication is already trending down, Ganem said. It could be more effective, he reasoned, to treat patients earlier when their symptoms are mild and they are at the peak period of viral replication.

With so many lives at stake, Ganem said it makes sense to want to use every tool available, but he stressed the importance of doing clinical trials alongside use of the drug.

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