Coronavirus update: Prescriptions for malaria drug plummet at VA hospitals

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Government-run VA hospitals have “ratcheted down” prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine as treatment for veterans with coronavirus.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie told of the plummeting prescriptions at a House hearing on Thursday in the wake of studies linking the unproven drug to an increased risk of death and heart arrhythmia.

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Weekly prescriptions for hydroxychloroquine among the VA hospitals soared from around two in mid-March to a high of 404 two weeks, later when President Trump touted the anti-malarial drug as a possible treatment for COVID-19, according to VA data presented to Congress, the Associated Press reported. Last week, there were just three prescriptions.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 28, 2020, on the Department of Veterans Affairs response to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie speaks during a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 28, 2020, on the Department of Veterans Affairs response to COVID-19. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Wilkie said the drug was initially administered to vets “to give them hope” amid limited treatment options.

“We are all learning as we go in this crisis,” Wilkie told a House appropriations subcommittee, the outlet wrote. “Our mission is to preserve and protect life.”

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A backlash among veterans organizations spurred after an analysis of VA hospital data released last month revealed hundreds of veterans taking hydroxychloroquine saw no benefit for COVID-19. Approximately 28 percent of veterans who were given hydroxychloroquine along with usual care died, compared with 11 percent of veterans receiving solely routine care.

Trump revealed to reporters on May 18  that he too was taking hydroxychloroquine in an effort to prevent getting coronavirus, sharing that he had been taking a pill every day for about a week and a half. However, earlier this week, Trump said that he is no longer on the drug.

“Finished, just finished,” Trump told “Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson” during an interview that aired Sunday on Sinclair Broadcasting. “And by the way, I’m still here. To the best of my knowledge, here I am.”

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The VA has been turning to Gilead Sciences' anti-viral drug remdesivir instead, which received an emergency authorization use from the Food and Drug Administration in early May.

Results from a recent National Institutes of Health clinical trial supported the use of the antiviral drug remdesivir in treating coronavirus after data pointed to improved recovery time for hospitalized COVID-19 patients by about four days.

As of Thursday, the VA reported 1,200 coronavirus-related deaths and 13,657 total cases among veterans.

Fox News’ Andrew Reilly and Kenneth Garger contributed to this report.

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