U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has raised the possibility that the Department of Veterans Affairs may be conducting clandestine tests of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine on veterans with COVID-19 in VA facilities in New York state and elsewhere. Schumer has demanded answers from the VA about what’s going on, if anything.
The drug has been promoted by President Donald Trump, some of his campaign contributors, hosts on Fox News and right-wing websites as a cure for COVID-19 despite a lack of widespread clinical trials and Food and Drug Administration cautions about the drug.
Schumer noted that there are 79 VA facilities in New York state, including 16 in the Hudson Valley, and expressed concern that all or part of a recent bulk order for hydroxychloroquine by the VA may have been shipped to its hospitals in New York.
In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, Schumer cited a previous test of the drug by the VA that resulted in a death rate more than twice as high among patients who were given the drug as among those who did not receive it.
“The VA’s own study found that the drug was not only ineffective in treating COVID-19, but actually increased the risk of death among patients. In the study of 368 patients, 97 patients who took hydroxychloroquine had a 27.8% death rate while the 58 patients who did not take the drug had an 11.4% death rate,” Schumer said.
“The FDA stated that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19 and warned that patients who also have other health issues such as heart and kidney disease are likely to be at increased risk of these heart problems when receiving these medicines,” Schumer said.
He also noted that the FDA urged patients and health providers “to report and track side effects and serious adverse events related to the administration of these drugs.”
Schumer asked Wilkie a series of questions including, “Were you or any official at the VA ever pressured by the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services or any other agencies to use hydroxychloroquine on veteran patients for the treatment of COVID-19?” Schumer told Wilkie that he expects a response to his letter no later than May 22.
In a separate statement, Schumer noted that The Washington Post on May 1 had written about the VA’s use of the drug and reported that the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars were questioning what the VA was doing.
The VFW said it was “very disturbed” that the VA is still administering the drug for COVID-19 treatment, according to The Washington Post.
“The VA needs to provide full details on the recent bulk order, the status of any testing and the notification process to families. Recent actions by the VA have spurred serious questions and the fact that the VA has yet to answer them is deeply concerning. If vets are being given this risky drug, New York families – and all families – have a right to know what is going on and what’s intended for the future,” Schumer said.