Hydroxychloroquine Effective Against COVID-19, New Study Claims

The much talked about hydroxychloroquine drug was found to have no impact on hospitalized COVID-19 patients according to the Solidarity Trial conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO). On June 17, 2020, the study was put to an end, but the agency maintained that other evaluations of the drug need not be affected by their decision.  

Despite President Donald Trump saying that he was taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19 infection, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) stopped the drug from being used in emergencies on June 15. They found it ineffective in treating COVID-19 as well. 

Contrary to all these findings, a new study by Henry Ford Health System (HFHS) in Southeast Michigan investigated the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine against COVID-19 once again. They found a decrease in mortality rate among the patients who took the drug. The results were published online by the International Journal of Infectious Diseases on July 1.

How The Study Was Conducted

As the United States is the worst affected country by the pandemic, exploring all treatment options repeatedly is the need of the hour. In this retrospective observational study, hospitalized patients from the six hospitals integrated with the HFHS were included. The study consisted of patients admitted for COVID-19 related issues to the health system from March 10 to May 2. 

Four groups were formed to test a drug combination as well as hydroxychloroquine alone. One group was given hydroxychloroquine therapy without other drugs in the mix, while another group was given hydroxychloroquine with azithromycin. Another group of hospitalized patients took azithromycin alone, whereas the remaining took none of the two aforementioned drugs. All the participants who were older than 18 were treated in-house for a minimum of 48 hours. 

“Hydroxychloroquine was dosed as 400 mg twice daily for 2 doses on day 1, followed by 200 mg twice daily on days 2-5. Azithromycin was dosed as 500 mg once daily on day 1 followed by 250 mg once daily for the next 4 days,” the researchers said. 

“The combination of hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin was reserved for selected patients with severe COVID-19 and with minimal cardiac risk factors. An electrocardiogram (ECK) based algorithm was utilized for hydroxychloroquine use,” the researchers elaborated on their methods in the paper. 


A bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine sit on a counter at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020. GEORGE FREY/AFP via Getty Images

Mortality Rates

Overall mortality rate for the entire cohort was at 18.1 percent. The mortality rate for the group that took just hydroxychloroquine was 13.5 percent, while it was 22.4 percent among the group that took azithromycin alone.

For the group receiving the combination of both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, a mortality rate of 20.1 percent was observed. Among those who took neither drug, they had the highest mortality rate of 26.4 percent.

“Hydroxychloroquine provided a 66% hazard ratio reduction, and hydroxychloroquine + azithromycin 71% compared to neither treatment,” the researchers stated. 

Early Admission

A study done in New York did not show a decrease in mortality rate when patients took the drug. Researchers at the HFHS justified this difference by saying that 82 percent of the patients were given hydroxychloroquine within 24 hours of hospital admission, whereas the New York study would have administered the drug at a later time.  

“Maybe there’s a little bit of a difference, but it’s not like patients in New York were being started on day seven. That’s not what happened,” argued Eli Rosenberg, lead author of the New York based study on hydroxychloroquine.