9 Drug Manufacturers Report Shortages of Trump-Touted STD Antibiotic for Coronavirus, With Demand Highest in New York

Nine drug manufacturers told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that they're experiencing a shortage of azithromycin, an antibiotic better known by its brand name Z-Pack, after President Donald Trump suggested it as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

Though the medication is commonly used to treat sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), Trump has repeatedly mentioned that some doctors use it in combination with the anti-malaria medication hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus patients.

Demands for azithromycin have been highest in New York, the U.S. hotspot with over 222,000 confirmed cases, according to Paula Gurz, the senior director of pharmacy at health care service company Premier.

As a result, doctors who would like to prescribe azithromycin for conditions like chlamydia are having trouble obtaining the drug, according to Christopher Hall, chairman of the clinical advisory council for the National Coalition of STD Directors.

"There is very mixed data as to whether it will even be effective for COVID," Hall told The Hill. "The downside for us is that it's made it more challenging to treat our patients. It's one of the most commonly used drugs in [STD] care. So we worry a lot about what would happen if the national supply were being repurposed."

Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin
In this photo illustration a Hydroxychloroquine Sulfate medication pill. U.S. President Donald Trump recently promoted Hydroxychloroquine, a common anti-malaria drug, as a potential treatment for COVID-19 when combined with the antibiotic azithromycin. John Phillips/Getty

Both drugs are still undergoing clinical trials around the world to test their effectiveness in treating the epidemic. Thus far, results have been inconclusive.

Nevertheless, Trump has said he'd prefer that coronavirus patients use the drug combination to recover rather than use ventilators.

"So I want to keep them out of ventilators, I want to keep them—if this drug works, it will be not a game-changer because that's not a nice enough term," Trump said during his April 4 White House coronavirus briefing.

"It will be wonderful," he continued, "it'll be so beautiful, it'll be a gift from heaven if it works, because when people go into those ventilators, you know the answers, and I'm glad you don't write about it."

The drug combination has captured Trump's attention in part due to its use by French microbiologist Didier Raoult, who proclaimed success after administering the drugs to coronavirus patients with mild symptoms. However, Raoult's research has been criticized for methodological flaws.

A paper published in late March disputed Dr. Raoult's claims after finding no evidence of clinical benefits associated with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin as COVID-19 treatments.

On March 23, TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz praised the drug combination as a "game-changer" for treating coronavirus while appearing on Fox & Friends.

Less than an hour later on the program, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams criticized co-host Steve Doocy and Oz for promoting a clinically untested drug. Rather, Adams said TV personalities and viewers should discuss the best ways to stop the virus's spread instead.

Newsweek has reached out to Oz for comment. He had not responded by the time of publication.