France bans hydroxychloroquine, drug touted by Trump to treat COVID-19

Previously, Trump touted hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment despite no evidence of its efficacy

By Matthew Rozsa
May 27, 2020 5:44PM (UTC)
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A pharmacy tech holds a bottle of Hydroxychloroquine (GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images)

Hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by President Donald Trump as a possible treatment for COVID-19, has been banned as a treatment for that disease by the French health ministry.

"Whether [in doctors offices] in the cities or in the hospital, this ... should not be prescribed for patients with COVID-19," the French health ministry declared in a statement published Wednesday morning. The decision was made one day after the public health agency issued an advisory statement urging that the drug not be used outside of clinical trials. The national medicines regulator then chose to suspend the drug's use in clinical trials.

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These policy choices were made after an article was published Friday in a medical journal, The Lancet, which cast doubt that either that drug or a related malaria medication, chloroquine, could help COVID-19 patients.

"The use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in COVID-19 is based on widespread publicity of small, uncontrolled studies, which suggested that the combination of hydroxychloroquine with the macrolide azithromycin was successful in clearing viral replication," the authors of the study wrote.

They conducted a "multinational, observational, real-world study" of how the drug interacts with COVID-19 patients and concluded, "the use of a regimen containing hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine (with or without a macrolide) was associated with no evidence of benefit, but instead was associated with an increase in the risk of ventricular arrhythmias and a greater hazard for in-hospital death with COVID-19." They urged that the drug not be used outside of clinical trials and added that "urgent confirmation from randomised clinical trials is needed."

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Last week Trump claimed that he had been taking the drug, telling reporters that "a couple of weeks ago I started taking it. Here's my evidence. I get a lot of positive calls about it. The only negative I've heard was the study where they gave it was at the VA with, you know, people that aren't big Trump fans gave it."

The president has frequently promoted the drug as a possible treatment for COVID-19, brushing off concerns that he may be at least partially motivated by the fact that he has a small personal financial interest in Sanofi, the French pharmaceutical company that makes the brand-name version of the drug, Plaquenil. For instance, on one occasion in April, Trump claimed that "it's a very strong, powerful medicine, but it doesn't kill people. We have some very good results and some very good tests."

Trump's misstatements about hydroxychloroquine have created an ethical predicament for media outlets and other companies responsible for providing accurate information to the public during a life-or-death pandemic. Google appears to have responded to this by suppressing searches for variant phrases combining the words "hydroxychloroquine" and "Trump" by not having them autocomplete in their search engine, with one search engine expert telling Salon that "when terms are just not showing up like that it means they're being flagged as incendiary queries, often related to criminal and deviant terms."

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Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) revealed that hydroxychloroquine is not a successful treatment against the disease. They noted that there were four or five different drugs treatments that seemed to limit the severity or length of COVID-19, although further study is necessary before reaching definitive conclusions about those drugs' efficacy. 

"The report shows that hydroxychloroquine is ineffective, has no measurable effect on the symptoms, has no measurable effect in modifying the course of COVID-19. There is evidence that it can be harmful to patients," Dr. William Haseltine, a biologist renowned for his work in confronting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and for advancing our knowledge of the human genome, told Salon last month.


Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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