Trump’s Dubious Drug Push Sparks Shortages for Lupus Patients

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Mar 25, 2020

The drug hydroxychloroquine, which President Donald Trump recently promoted along with azithromycin as a potential cure for COVID-19, is now making news for harming lupus patients, which the Lupus Foundation of America reports is two to three times more prevalent among women of color compared to White women, and afflicts one in 537 young Black women.

That’s because hydroxychloroquine, the generic name for the lupus medication Plaquenil, is selling out in drug stores across the country to "treat" COVID-19, ProPublica reports.


“Most everybody that has lupus takes Plaquenil unless they can’t tolerate it,” Anna Valdez, who has been taking the drug for 15 years to treat her lupus, told ProPublica in a March 22 report. “It’s usually the first medication that anybody with lupus is put on. It can be protective for us. It can protect our immune system from attacking our own organs. It’s the least severe of all of the medicines that are out there.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “Due to higher in-vitro activity against SARS-CoV-2 and its wider availability in the United States compared with chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine has been administered to hospitalized COVID-19 patients on an uncontrolled basis in multiple countries, including in the United States.” But people are taking the drug into their own hands. In addition to ProPublica, other news outlets, including NBC News, Business Insider and National Public Radio (NPR), report that like Valdez, many people with lupus have learned they might not be able to access their meds due to mass shortage and hoarding. 

Without hydroxychloroquine, Valdez admitted she would have to increase her use of stronger medications, which she said would be “basically increasing my risk of having very serious complications [from] coronavirus.” The 49-year-old continued, “When I think about the other people out there with lupus and other autoimmune disorders, we’re all really scared right now…If I get coronavirus, unlike someone else my age, almost 50 years old, who is likely to recover and will be fine, I will likely end up in the ICU.”

As Trump touts untested cures, medical experts, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, tries to swat the false claims away as quickly as possible, but there’s already damage. “When the president stands on the stage and he makes uninformed statements that are not backed by science and are not vetted by professionals who have expertise in that area, he leads an entire massive nation to think what he says is true,” Valdez told ProPublica. “You have people running around thinking there’s a cure for coronavirus, that there’s medicine.”

But as Dr. Fauci said, according to the Associated Press, “If you really want to definitively know if something works, you’ve got to do the kind of trial where you get the good information.”