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Debunked: No, the HSE has not banned a Covid-19 treatment in order to later 'push' a vaccine

A widely shared Facebook post incorrectly claims that medications which ‘cure’ the virus have been banned in Ireland.

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AS THE SEARCH for a Covid-19 vaccine continues, a lot of misinformation about potential treatments for the virus is being shared online.

One Facebook post that has been shared hundreds of times in Ireland claims the HSE has “ordered” all doctors here not to prescribe hydroxychloroquine (an antimalarial drug) and azithromycin (an antibiotic), medications which the post incorrectly states cure Covid-19.

Hydroxycholorquine, either on its own or in conjunction with azithromycin, has been trialled as a possible treatment for Covid-19. 

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine yesterday found that hydroxychloroquine — given either alone or in combination with azithromycin — did not improve the conditions of hospitalised patients with mild to moderate Covid-19, in line with other recent research.

The Facebook post also speculates that these drugs are being deliberately withheld in order to “push” a vaccine if and when one becomes available, something the HSE says is inaccurate.

shutterstock_1489783262 File photo Source: Shutterstock/PhotobyTawat

When asked about the claims made in the post, a spokesperson for the Department of Health told TheJournal.ie that, due to the novel nature of Covid-19, there were no existing treatments when the virus emerged.

“In order to ensure patient safety and optimal outcomes for patients in Ireland, it is important that there is good evidence to support potential treatments and clinical decision making.”

The spokesperson added that the HSE established several multidisciplinary expert groups “to examine the significant amount of new and emerging evidence on potential treatments for Covid-19 and to develop interim guidance to support evidence-based clinical decision making”.

“This guidance recommended that the prescribing of antivirals for the management of patients with confirmed Covid-19 disease should be restricted to hospitals only.”

The spokesperson said the expert analysis of emerging evidence, both nationally and internationally, “has determined that there is no evidence to support the use hydroxychloroquine alone, or in combination with azithromycin, for the treatment of Covid-19″.

“As a result hydroxychloroquine was removed from the interim guidance for Covid-19 treatments for use in our hospitals,” they added.

Recommendations 

A spokesperson for the HSE said the organisation’s clinical recommendations are “supported by evidence review, which is regularly updated, on the therapeutic management of Covid-19″.

The recommendations state: “The use of investigational or off-label medicinal products to treat patients with confirmed Covid-19 is at an experimental stage. The evidence of clinical efficacy is lacking.

“Patients (or their next of kin, by phone) should be adequately informed about the uncertain efficacy, and respective toxicities of the agents, and their consent obtained.

“Hydroxychloroquine as an investigational agent option outside of clinical trials has been removed from the recommendations due to evidence indicating a lack of benefit in patients hospitalised with Covid-19.”

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The HSE’s spokesperson said some misinformation about Covid-19 that is being shared online “is completely false, not fully accurate or not supported by experts”. Further details on this can be read here.  

STOP, THINK AND CHECK

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere.

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate.

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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