October 28, 2021

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US supply of drug that Trump touts as COVID-19 treatment cut in half

  • The US has abruptly lost 47% of its supply of hydroxychloroquine, the drug touted by the president as a prospective treatment and preventive measure for COVID-19.
  • Much of the drug has been produced in India, which banned exporting it.
  • Despite the president’s claims, there is little scientific evidence that the drug is effective for fighting the novel coronavirus. It’s normally used to treat lupus, arthritis, and malaria. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The US has abruptly lost about half of its incoming supply of hydroxychloroquine, the drug President Donald Trump touts with little evidence as a drug to fight COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat and ward off the symptoms of malaria, arthritis, and lupus. Much of it is developed in India, which on Saturday banned exporting it, according to Bloomberg News.

India provided about 47% of the US’s supply, according to data from 2019 analyzed by Bloomberg News, and just a “handful” of the US suppliers of the drug are based outside the country.

At a press conference on Saturday, Trump said a request to India to release shipments of the drug that had already been ordered was under “serious consideration.” The outright ban was announced by India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade on April 4, though the country had already limited exports of the drug before the ban. 

The president has said as recently as Sunday he believes the drug should be used against COVID-19. He has even said he might take it himself as a preventative measure.

“It’s a powerful drug on malaria, and there are scientific works on this — some strong signs,” Trump said at a press conference, adding that the US had a stockpile of more than 29 million hydroxychloroquine pills that could be used.

“What do you have to lose?” he has said repeatedly, despite the medication’s side effects and its unproven effects on COVID-19 patients. Clinical trials are underway.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has said multiple times that the evidence on the drug is unproven. It is still undergoing clinical trials as a COVID-19 treatment.

“In terms of science, I don’t think we could definitively say it works,” Fauci said during an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

When a reporter at a press briefing on Sunday asked Fauci to answer questions about the drug, the president refused to allow him to answer and moved the press conference toward a different topic.

“He answered that question 15 times,” Trump said.

Erin Fox, a drug-shortage expert and the senior pharmacy director for the University of Utah’s health system, told Business Insider in March that a shortage of the drug could spell trouble for those who need it.

“People rely on this medication,” Fox said. “They have chronic illnesses, and they really rely on this. Once you’re stable on these therapies, it’s not something that is easy to switch.”

India’s ban on exports will likely increase prices of the medication in the short term and limit supply in the long run, Bloomberg reported. The ban is directed at ensuring the country has enough access to the drug for its own citizens, according to the report.

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