STATEWIDE — Gov. Ron DeSantis says a million doses of hydroxychloroquine -- a drug commonly used to treat malaria and other conditions and repeatedly backed by President Donald Trump to treat COVID-19 -- are due to arrive in Tallahassee on Wednesday, even though health experts warn no rigorous testing has been done to prove it could work.
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Here in Florida, the health experts say the worst of the coronavirus's impact has yet to come. The number of deaths from COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus sweeping the globe, surpassed 300 Wednesday morning, with more than 15,000 infections.
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DeSantis said the state has tested almost 140,000 people, and of them, more than 123,000 have tested negative.
"... we got a million doses coming to Tallahassee. It's suppose to arrive (Wednesday) that will immediately be sent out to hospitals across the state of Florida," DeSantis said.
Hydroxychloroquine has been a controversial drug to treat COVID-19, because although Trump has repeatedly pushed for its use, many doctors and medical researchers -- including the nation's leading infectious disease expert and federal coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, and American Medical Association President Patrice Harris -- have publicly said that more research needs to be done before this is an acceptable drug for wide use in COVID-19 patients.
The health professionals warn that it's dangerous to be pushing unproven remedies that could have serious, even deadly, side effects if combined with other drugs or pre-existing conditions.
Harris says she personally wouldn't prescribe the drug to a COVID-19 patient, saying the risks of severe side effects were “great and too significant to downplay” without large studies showing the drug is safe and effective for such use.
Harris pointed to the drug’s high risk of causing heart rhythm problems.
Reacting to Trump previously asking, "What do we have to lose?" she said, "You could lose your life. Your heart could stop.”
Still, DeSantis said the doses of hydroxychloroquine will be distributed to hospitals across the state. He was joined by doctors Tuesday to talk about the drug in combination with commonly prescribed antibiotic azithromycin for coronavirus treatment.
Giving hydroxychloroquine, which is also used to treat lupus and arthritis, to COVID-19 patients has patients of those other conditions concerned about supply.
"I'm a little upset about this right now not knowing after these 30 days are up, am I going to get any more," Orlando-area lupus patient Robin Williams said. "They need to send them to the pharmacy like people like me rely on."
Williams said the drug has helped her treat the potentially deadly autoimmune disease for the past 10 years, but she had to call six pharmacies Tuesday to get her monthly dose.
"She told me that she could only give me a 14-day supply... and they'd have to wait and see if I could get anymore, because there's such a shortage," Williams said.
The governor said the drug is manufactured in India and that country's prime minister made an exception for more to come to the U.S.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.