FDA revokes emergency authorization of malaria drug to treat COVID-19

Coronavirus

A new study finds no evidence of benefit from a malaria drug widely promoted as a treatment for coronavirus infection. Hydroxychloroquine did not lower the risk of dying or needing a breathing tube in a comparison that involved nearly 1,400 consecutive patients treated at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York. (AP Photo/John Locher)

WASHINGTON (AP) – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is revoking its emergency authorization for malaria drugs promoted by President Donald Trump for treating COVID-19 amid growing evidence they don’t work and could cause deadly side effects.

The agency said Monday that the drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are unlikely to be effective in treating the coronavirus. Citing reports of heart complications, the FDA said the drugs pose a greater risk to patients than any potential benefits.

The decades-old drugs, also prescribed for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can cause heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.

The move means that shipments of the drugs obtained by the federal government will no longer be distributed to state and local health authorities. The drugs are still available for alternate uses, so U.S. doctors could still prescribe them for COVID-19 – a practice known as off-label prescribing.

On Thursday, a National Institutes of Health expert panel revised its guidelines to specifically recommend against the drug’s use except in formal studies.

Trump aggressively pushed the drug beginning in the first weeks of the outbreak and stunned medical professionals when he revealed he took the drug preemptively against infection.

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