With no known cure for coronavirus, some doctors in Iowa are prescribing the drug hydroxychloroquine for certain patients.

President Donald Trump told reporters on Monday he’s been taking the drug as a preventative measure after multiple members of the White House staff tested positive for the virus.  “I’m taking it, hydroxychloroquine, right now,” President Trump says. “A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it because I think it’s good, I’ve heard a lot of good stories. And if it’s not good, I’ll tell you right. I’m not going to get hurt by it.”

The Food and Drug Administration has not approved hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent coronavirus, but it has issued an Emergency Use Authorization for it, which allows medical providers to use a product in an emergency, like a pandemic. In an interview with KCRG-TV, Dr. Dustin Arnold, the chief medical officer at UnityPoint–St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids, says he doesn’t recommend people take the drug as a preventative measure.

“That hasn’t been shown to be a benefit,” Arnold says. “But it’s not of harm either, if you’re under a doctor doing it, and the White House physician believes the benefit outweighs the risk, that’s very reasonable.” The FDA warned in April that hydroxychloroquine can cause heart problems and its use for COVID-19 should be limited to clinical trial settings or for treating certain hospitalized patients.

St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids has been doing that for some of its moderate to severely ill patients, according to Arnold. “We should save it for the people where the risk is less than — the benefit outweighs the risk. They’re really sick, so let’s try it. It’s hard to stand there and do nothing,” Arnold says. At this point, he says it’s hard to tell what effect hydroxychloroquine has had on coronavirus patients.

“Our experience — it’s a small population — was that it may have been some benefit, but that’s not compared against a controlled trial or a placebo to really make that statistically significant,” Arnold says. Hydroxychloroquine, which is only available with a prescription, is also more commonly used to treat people with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

In late March, the FDA said there was a shortage of the drug, with some manufacturers reporting they have a limited supply because of increased demand. Arnold says St. Luke’s prepared for that before starting the treatment for coronavirus patients.
“We looked at all the patients that get regular prescriptions, and we set aside that amount and protected it for them, and then what we had leftover, we used on the in-patient side, and we’ve had plenty,” Arnold says. “It hasn’t been a problem.”