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Side Effects of Hydroxychloriquine Are Too Risky for COVID-19 Patients

By Dr. Joe Jarvis

Dr. Joe Jarvis candidate for Utah Lieutenant Governor

Utahns who were paying close attention to the news the past few days witnessed firsthand how dangerous it is for our State Government to take its cues from the current occupant of the White House.  

Throughout the current pandemic, President Trump has been ceaselessly promoting the use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19. He’s done this despite repeated warnings from doctors and other medical experts that we didn’t know enough about how this drug interacted with COVID-19 patients to say that it was safe, let alone that it helped.  

But Trump has many listeners in Utah’s government—ones who are willing to follow his inexpert advice. This past Tuesday, Utah Senate President Stuart Adams (R-Layton) announced his support of a legislative appropriation to purchase 200,000 patients’ worth of this drug by saying:  

Through a public-private partnership, Utah acted early to secure doses of hydroxychloroquine, which the FDA has approved to treat patients with COVID-19. This medication has been used safely for over 70 years to treat patients with diseases such as lupus, malaria, and rheumatoid arthritis. More and more studies are showing positive outcomes when COVID-19 patients are treated with hydroxychloroquine.”  

 Senator Adams is simply wrong. The FDA has not approved the use for hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. In fact, today the FDA issued this statement:  

“Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can cause abnormal heart rhythms such as QT interval prolongation and a dangerously rapid heart rate called ventricular tachycardia. We will continue to investigate risks associated with the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine for COVID-19 and communicate publicly when we have more information.”  

These are serious heart problems that can lead to death. As side effects, they are unacceptably risky.  

Senator Adams is also wrong about there being more and more studies showing positive outcomes when COVID-19 patients are treated with hydroxychloroquine. The FDA’s statement came immediately upon the release of the results of a Brazilian study of the use of these drugs in the care of COVID-19 patients, published in JAMA, which documented excess deaths in patients treated with these drugs. Another study run by the VA showed similar results. There was one study, in France, published March 17, 2020, which seemed to indicate that hydroxychloroquine use was associated with more rapid clearance of the coronavirus patients. As anyone in the sciences knows, a single study is reason for interest and further studies to confirm findings—nothing more. Yet this lone study was repeatedly hyped by President Trump in his daily news events. He even indicated that mass purchases of the drug had been undertaken by the federal government. Perhaps this example is what led Mr. Adams to suppose that he was doing Utahns a favor by getting in early on such a supposedly good thing. 

The whistle was blown on this ridiculous legislative appropriation by State Representative Suzanne Harrison (D-Draper), who is a physician. She expressed “concerns about the state spending taxpayer dollars on unproven treatments with significant risks.” Rep. Harrison was being polite. But she took the gloves off when she discovered that another member of the Trump Followers’ Club was Governor Gary Herbert, who had weeks ago ordered 20,000 doses of the drug, costing the state $800,000. In response, Rep. Harrison said, “Apparently there are more orders [in] the works for this unproven drug that is already available through normal channels. I’m outraged. You should be too.” 

I agree—outrage is the correct response to this misuse of taxpayer money. Utah’s Republican legislative majority is constantly touting its fiscal conservatism, and yet, here they are willing to spend substantial public funds for an unprovenand now apparently dangerousdrug, which the state will then, presumably, dispense. Where is the authority for the state of Utah to own and operate a pharmaceutical distribution business? What is conservative about the State government replacing a business?  

Moreover, our medical experts have repeatedly informed us that the key to reopening our economy isn’t treatments; it’s tests. And Utah has been short on COVID-19 testing supplies, including nasal swabs, reagents, and the personal protective equipment health care workers need to collect those test specimens. Why weren’t available funds appropriated for these proven uses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic instead of the unproven, and now probably dangerous, use of hydroxychloroquine?   

The only reason I can think of is that our State’s leaders are so beholden to the man in the White House that they’ll take his word over a doctor’s. In so doing, they have wasted taxpayers’ money and further risked the lives of Utah citizens. Now that Mr. Trump has told Americans that they should be using Lysol to kill coronavirus, will Governor Herbert and Senator Adams appropriate funds to buy up available Lysol supplies? I hope not, but at this point, I can’t be sure.   

Utah needs new leadership. Jan Garbett and I are running to be leaders who will listen to science, truth, and facts rather than lies repeated ad nauseum at press conferences. Please join us in our crusade!