With a series of studies raising questions about the side effects and the efficacy of a drug pushed by President Donald Trump for use against the Coronavirus, the VA has curtailed its use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroqine in Veterans Affairs medical facilities.
"Last week, we only used it three times," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told a House Appropriations Committee hearing, a very small number compared to the over 1,300 vets who have received the drug for Coronavirus treatment.
"We started ratcheting it down as we went more to remdesivir and we went more to the convalescent plasma," Wilkie said, as he took fire from Democrats over using the drug in the first place.
"It's very disappointing to me that the VA was using that drug," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), the chair of the panel, as she slammed the President's embrace of hydroxychloroquine as 'wishful thinking' by someone who is not a medical expert.
"What is astounding to me is the VA is still insisting on providing this drug to veterans," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL).
“We have ratcheted down as we've brought more treatments online,” Wilkie said at another point. “And I expect that to continue.”
Wilkie said he spoken this week with the government's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who told reporters in recent days that hydroxychloroquine should no longer be used by doctors.
The VA chief though couched Fauci's advice as one which would leave the door open to possible use of the malaria drug as more evidence comes in.
"The rest of the world is all over the map," Wilkie said of the use of hydroxychloroquine against the Coronavirus. "France banned it, and then the government of India said it absolutely essential for them."
The message from the White House continued to be much more upbeat than Dr. Fauci.
“It's important to note that this drug has been safely used by millions of people for a long time,” said White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Thursday.