Over 19 Million Hydroxychloroquine Tablets Have Been Shipped Out by FEMA

More than 19 million hydroxychloroquine pills have been sent to cities across the U.S. from the Strategic National Stockpile. The shipment comes after the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the drug's use as a treatment for COVID-19.

A spokesperson from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said two shipments of the drug have been sent since April 6.

"The first shipment of 9 million tablets is in support of New York City, Chicago, New Orleans, and Detroit," a FEMA spokesperson said. "The second shipment of 10.1 million tablets is intended for St. Louis, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Milwaukee, Miami, Houston, Indianapolis, and Baton Rouge."

The spokesperson said a portion of the shipment was sent to the Veterans Affairs Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy and the Department of Defense.

After the FDA issued the EUA, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it had accepted 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate from pharmaceutical company Sandoz.

The FDA's order allows the use of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of teen and adult coronavirus patients outside of clinical trials. It means doctors can prescribe the drug to people hospitalized with COVID-19 "when a clinical trial is not available or feasible."

According to Johns Hopkins University, there are currently 609,685 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., with over 26,000 deaths.

Hydroxychloroquine is one of many existing drugs being tested as a possible COVID-19 treatment. At present, there are no approved treatments for the virus. Erin Fox, from the University of Utah's College of Pharmacy, told Politico that most courses of treatment would require between 12 to 14 hydroxychloroquine tablets. This means the 19.1 million tablets could be used to treat between 1.3 million and 1.6 million patients.

Trials of hydroxychloroquine are taking place in hospitals across the world, but there is limited evidence to suggest it is effective at treating the virus. One small study in France found the drug, combined with azithromycin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, had no clinical benefit.

Concerns have also been raised about potential side effects of the drug, which in some cases can lead to heart problems and cardiac death. In one trial in France, treatment had to be stopped in one patient after the drug became a "major risk" to their cardiac health.

Jinoos Yazdany, Chief of Rheumatology at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, previously told Newsweek that hydroxychloroquine, when used in low doses in an outpatient setting, has a "good safety profile."

However, he said less is known about the effects when used on critically ill patients. He said there are concerns that the drug can prolong the "QT interval," the measurement on an electrocardiogram to assess the heart's electrical properties.

"This can be especially dangerous in patients taking other medications with similar side effects," he said. "It is important for people to remember that this is an entirely experimental therapy for COVID-19. There is insufficient evidence to know whether it has any benefit at all. We need well done, randomized controlled trials to guide use and also to quantify side effects. Patients should also realize that there are a range of experimental therapies being tried for COVID-19, including novel treatments that are being investigated in clinical trials."

Hydroxychloroquine tablets. Over 19 million tablets have been shipped out from the Strategic National Stockpile since April 6. John Phillips/Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

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.