Nearly 17,000 people across six countries may have died because they took hydroxychloroquine (HQC) during the first wave of COVID-19 in 2020, according to a new analysis published by French researchers.
Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malaria drug that was prescribed off-label to treat COVID-19 in the early stage of the pandemic, as researchers and physicians scrambled to find a way to combat the disease. It was also proposed as a preventative measure.
In February and March 2020, the use of this treatment was widely promoted based on preliminary reports suggesting a potential efficacy against COVID-19. However, subsequent studies showed that not only did the drug have no benefit, it also resulted in a significant increase in risk of death.
According to the researchers from Lyon, France, and Quebec, Canada, providers still prescribed hydroxychloroquine to some patients hospitalized with COVID-19 “despite the absence of evidence documenting its clinical benefits.”
The analysis found an estimated 16,990 excess deaths across six countries – Turkey, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy and the U.S. – were likely attributed to hydroxychloroquine use.
The researchers analyzed other studies that tracked hospitalizations, exposure to hydroxychloroquine and the relative risk of death from the drug.
The toxicity of hydroxychloroquine in patients with COVID-19 was partially due to cardiac side effects, such as abnormal heart rhythms.
However, the researchers noted their numbers were likely an undercoun, but could also be a significant overcount.
The study period was only from March to July 2020, and there was a general lack of data from most countries. The actual number of deaths related to hydroxychloroquine could be between 3,000 and 30,000, they said.
Worldwide, the number of deaths related to hydroxychloroquine “was obviously underestimated because of the lack of studies in regions, such as East Europe, United Kingdom, Germany, Scandinavia, Africa, and South America,” the researchers wrote.
Since there were about 600 million people combined living in the countries included in the study, the researchers said the real number of hydroxychloroquine-induced deaths might be “significantly higher given the wide use of HCQ during the first and subsequent waves in numerous countries.”
The Food and Drug Administration granted a temporary emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine on March 28, 2020, which was revoked on June 15, 2020. Former president Trump repeatedly promoted the drug, touting hydroxychloroquine and a related drug called chloroquine as a possible “miracle.”
“What do you have to lose? Take it,” Trump said during one of the White House coronavirus briefings.
“What do you have to lose???”
Written by Nathaniel Weixel for The Hill ~ January 4, 2024