FDA Says There's a Shortage of Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine 'Due to a Significant Surge in Demand'

The U.S. is facing shortages of antimalarial drugs being used experimentally to treat COVID-19 patients, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which are used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, are listed as "currently in shortage" by the agency. This is "due to a significant surge in demand," the body said.

The FDA stated: "all manufacturers are ramping up production" and the agency is ensuring this is happening "expeditiously and safely."

The announcement follows FDA approval of the drugs for use in patients hospitalized by and in clinical trials for the treatment of COVID-19, after it issued the first Emergency Use Authorization for a drug related to the disease over the weekend.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a statement on Sunday that it accepted 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate from an arm of the pharmaceutical company Novartis, and one million of chloroquine phosphate from Bayer Pharmaceuticals.

On Wednesday, the FDA said the 30 million doses "is expected to help ease supply pressures for the drugs.

"This is a fluctuating and dynamic situation and the FDA is actively engaged. The agency is updating its shortages lists regularly and continuing to communicate in real-time so that patients and healthcare providers have the most current information on product shortages in the U.S."

chloroquine, covid19, coronavirus, getty
A healthcare worker shows packets tablets containing chloroquine and tablets containing hydroxychloroquine on February 26, 2020 at the IHU Mediterranee Infection Institute in Marseille. GERARD JULIEN/AFP via Getty Images

Explaining the reasoning behind the FDA giving the green light for the medications on Sunday, the HHS said: "Anecdotal reports suggest that these drugs may offer some benefit in the treatment of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Clinical trials are needed to provide scientific evidence that these treatments are effective."

Experts who spoke to Newsweek at the time agreed that clinical trials must be carried out to prove the drugs are safe and effective in COVID-19 patients.

Andrew Preston, reader in microbial pathogenesis at the U.K.'s University of Bath, told Newsweek: "The desperate clinical need for treatment options for COVID-19, and the pressure that authorities are under to provide answers/solutions, and to be shown to providing them, it is perhaps understandable as to why the FDA has moved to approve chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine use, before the firm evidence supporting their use is available."

The FDA also announced on Wednesday that it had warned three companies for selling "fraudulent products with claims to prevent, treat, mitigate, diagnose or cure COVID-19."

The U.S. is now the country with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases. As indicated by the Statista map below, it has spread to all 50 states, Washington D.C., and four U.S. territories. According to Johns Hopkins University, over 190,000 cases have been confirmed.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in US
This chart shows the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States as of Wednesday, April 1, at 3 a.m. ET. Statista

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.