Apr 30, 2020 - Health

VA secretary defends hydroxychloroquine treatment for veterans

In this image, VA Secretary Robert sits
U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a letter on Wednesday that veterans are being treated for the novel coronavirus with hydroxychloroquine only when patients and their doctors find it medically necessary.

Why it matters: The Food and Drug Administration warned doctors last week about prescribing the antimalarial drug to COVID-19 patients as it appears to be causing some serious and potentially life-threatening side effects.

  • An independent analysis of veterans hospitalized at VA facilities, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found an increased risk of death associated with coronavirus patients who were only treated with the antimalarial drug.
  • The study is the largest examination to date of how the drug interacts with coronavirus patients, AP reports.

Details: The analysis, conducted by university researchers with VA approval, retrospectively looked through medical records of 368 male veterans, with a median age of 58, who were hospitalized with COVID-19 March 11 to April 11, per the study and Wilkie's letter.

What they're saying: "The Veterans who received hydroxychloroquine were at highest risk prior to receiving the medication," Wilkie wrote on Wednesday, adding that the VA is adhering to FDA guidance for the drug's use.

  • Wilkie declined to say in a call with major veterans organizations on Wednesday whether the agency had issued guidance to patients and doctors on the use of hydroxychloroquine, as well as how widely the drug is used, AP reports.
  • The VA told AP that it "permits use of the drug after ensuring veterans and caretakers are aware of potential risks associated with it, as we do with any other drug or treatment.”

Go deeper: States stockpile hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus as FDA issues warning

Go deeper