Tens of thousands of hydroxychloroquine doses are being used by the Department of Veterans Affairs on any given day.
“Those of us who’ve had a military life—some of us around this table—we’ve been taking this drug for years,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie told reporters at the White House Tuesday.
On any given day, the department uses 42,000 doses, Wilkie added.
Whether to prescribe COVID-19 patients hydroxychloroquine, a medicine traditionally used against malaria and lupus, has become a politically charged issue after repeated touting by President Donald Trump, who informed reporters this week that he’s been taking the drug since early May.
Every veteran who has received hydroxychloroquine consulted with their doctors before taking it, in addition to their families, according to Wilkie.
“We are doing everything we can to protect the lives of our veterans. And this is one of the means that we used,” he said.
Researchers based in South Carolina and Virginia performed an observational study on 368 male veterans who received the drug and said they found no evidence hydroxychloroquine works against COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. They also said they found an increase in mortality in patients who received the drug.
The results were critiqued by Wilkie, who said the veterans involved were “in the last stages of life.”
Wilkie renewed that criticism Tuesday, saying the researchers took the numbers and “did not clinically review them.” The results of the study, he noted, weren’t peer reviewed. And the researchers didn’t examine “the various comorbidities that the patients who were referenced in that study had.”
A researcher who co-led the study didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The researchers wrote in their preprint paper that the results “highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.”
Critics of hydroxychloroquine note that no rigorous, randomized, controlled trials examining its safety and efficacy have yet been completed. Some early studies lacking one of those components have shown effectiveness, especially when the drug is combined with zinc and the antibiotic azithryomycin.
Others have shown no effectiveness and some worrying side effects such as rapid heartbeats, prompting a warning from the Food and Drug Administration.
Wilkie was speaking at a Cabinet meeting.
Trump defended his use of hydroxychloroquine, telling reporters it’s being used by frontline workers as a prophylactic, or a way to avoid becoming infected with the CCP virus.
“A lot of people are taking it. A lot of doctors are taking it. A lot of people swear by it,” he said. “It’s gotten a bad reputation only because I’m promoting it. So I’m obviously a very bad promoter. If anybody else were promoting it, they’d say, ‘This is the greatest thing ever.'”