A Risky Move

The FDA approved use of two drugs for Covid-19 with little evidence that they work

Yasmin Tayag
Medium Coronavirus Blog
2 min readMar 31, 2020

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In a letter on Saturday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of the antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat people in the United States with the coronavirus. But the letter made clear that these drugs “are not FDA-approved for treatment of Covid-19” — they were only being made available due to the extreme circumstances.

As the Washington Post put it, “With no established treatments available, the FDA said… essentially, trying the antimalarial drugs was worth a shot.”

There isn’t much published evidence on the usefulness of these drugs to treat Covid-19, and the few studies that have been done have been criticized for having small sample sizes and less-than-rigorous methodology. Even the FDA described the data as “limited” and “anecdotal” in its letter and encouraged “conduct and participation in randomized controlled clinical trials that may produce evidence” that the drugs were useful.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were the reason for an awkward butting of heads last week between President Donald Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. coronavirus lead. When Trump hailed the “very, very encouraging early results” of chloroquine treatment, Fauci quickly doubled down on the need for thorough testing and called the existing evidence “anecdotal.”

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Yasmin Tayag
Medium Coronavirus Blog

Editor, Medium Coronavirus Blog. Senior editor at Future Human by OneZero. Previously: science at Inverse, genetics at NYU.