Coronavirus

CDC removes unusual guidance to doctors about drug favored by Trump to treat coronavirus

Key Points
  • The move comes three days after Reuters reported that the CDC published key dosing information involving the two antimalarial drugs based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science.
  • Reuters also reported that the original guidance was crafted by the CDC after President Trump personally pressed federal regulatory and health officials to make the malaria drugs more widely available to treat the novel coronavirus, though the drugs in question had been untested for COVID-19.
A prescription for Hydroxychloroquine.
Photo: Morgan Gleason

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has removed from its website highly unusual guidance informing doctors on how to prescribe hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, drugs recommended by President Donald Trump to treat the coronavirus.

The move comes three days after Reuters reported that the CDC published key dosing information involving the two antimalarial drugs based on unattributed anecdotes rather than peer-reviewed science.

Reuters also reported that the original guidance was crafted by the CDC after President Trump personally pressed federal regulatory and health officials to make the malaria drugs more widely available to treat the novel coronavirus, though the drugs in question had been untested for COVID-19.

Initially, the CDC webpage, titled Information for Clinicians on Therapeutic Options for Patients with COVID-19, had said: "Although optimal dosing and duration of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 are unknown, some U.S. clinicians have reported anecdotally" on several ways to prescribe the medication of COVID-19.

Medical specialists had told Reuters they were surprised by that language. "Why would CDC be publishing anecdotes?" asked Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. "That doesn't make sense. This is very unusual."

Doctors and other health experts had further criticized the guidance as suggesting that doctors might prescribe the medications when it isn't established whether or not they are effective or harmful.

Now the CDC website no longer includes that information. Instead, its first sentence says: "There are no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19."

The updated, and shortened, guidance adds that "Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are under investigation in clinical trials" for use on coronavirus patients.

To read the new CDC guidance, click here

The CDC did not immediately respond to questions about the removal of the original guidance. In a statement, it had originally told Reuters it had crafted the guidance for doctors at the request of a coronavirus task force, which urged prompt action.

Jeffrey Flier, a former dean of Harvard Medical School who had criticized the original guidance, applauded the updated version, calling it "substantially improved."

"It states the facts without in effect recommending that physicians prescribe the drugs despite a lack of adequate evidence," Flier said.

The hydroxychloroquine debate has heated up and become more political as President Trump this weekend said he might want to take the drug himself.