Early Data Suggests People Taking Hydroxychloroquine, Other Autoimmune Drugs Still Susceptible to COVID-19

April 19, 2020 Updated: April 19, 2020

Dozens of people taking hydroxychloroquine and other autoimmune drugs for chronic ailments such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis have tested positive for the CCP virus, according to data compiled by the Global Rheumatology Alliance.

The study is sponsored by an international collaborative, the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance, which includes a large group of academics, clinicians, and patients working together, and so far suggests that taking hydroxychloroquine doesn’t eliminate patient susceptibility to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease.

Over 9,500 patients have submitted surveys to the alliance, of which nearly half were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Nearly a third of all respondents with the chronic disease said they were taking hydroxychloroquine, of which 189 (7 percent) said they were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Separately, patient information provided by rheumatologists and published on April 16 in The Lancet Rheumatology also suggests the antimalarials do not eliminate the risk of COVID-19 for people already on the drugs. Of the first 110 patients reported, 69 were taking medications such as hydroxychloroquine to treat chronic ailments such as systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis before being diagnosed with the virus.

As of April 1, 110 individuals with rheumatic disease who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 are included from six continents: Europe, North America, South America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania.

However, the research doesn’t specifically address whether hydroxychloroquine is effective at treating coronavirus symptoms, and researchers acknowledged that one limitation to the study is that some countries test only people showing severe symptoms.

Jinoos Yazdany, chief of the division of rheumatology at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal that the antimalarial doesn’t fully protect people from contracting the virus and is “not a magic bullet, because people that are on it are contracting the infection.”

While hydroxychloroquine may not protect people from contracting COVID-19, the drug is being studied for its effectiveness as a treatment for those suffering symptoms from the respiratory illness.

On March 28, the Food and Drug Administration authorized emergency use of the drug, which President Donald Trump has also touted as a “game-changer,” for treating patients with COVID-19. This allowed the federal government to begin distributing millions of doses to states across the United States.

A number of clinical trials exploring the drug’s efficacy and safety are currently underway around the world, including a 1,500-person trial at the University of Minnesota. Three early studies, two from France and one from China, indicate a benefit of utilizing hydroxychloroquine, while others have indicated some areas of risk.

While medical professionals await validation of the efficacy of the drug through large-scale clinical trials, there remains cautious for using the drug as a prophylaxis, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious disease expert and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said.

Speaking at a White House news conference on March 20, Fauci said data on the drug so far “was not done in a controlled clinical trial. So you really can’t make any definitive statement about it,” and that only such studies would determine if the drug was truly safe and effective.

India, which manufactures 70 percent of the world’s supply of hydroxychloroquine, agreed on April 7 to lift an earlier ban on the export of the drug following a telephone conversation between Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Trump had said at a previous press conference that India could face retaliation if it failed to lift the ban and release the 29 million doses of the drug it had ordered for its medical stockpile.