Bureau of Prisons, VA purchase tens of thousands of dollars worth of anti-malaria drug amid coronavirus crisis

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As the debate over the efficacy of using an anti-malaria drug to treat COVID-19 patients continues, two federal agencies reportedly purchased tens of thousands of dollars worth of hydroxychloroquine within the past two weeks, according to a report Tuesday.

Since March 26, the Department of Veterans Affairs authorized at least two “emergency” purchase orders to combat the coronavirus health crisis, buying $40,000 in hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets from the pharmaceutical company McKesson, and another $168,000 from the Colorado-based generic drug distributor Golden State Medical Supply, DailyBeast reported, citing federal procurement records.

Meanwhile, on March 31, the Federal Bureau of Prisons purchased $60,000 of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets from the company Premium Rx National. The coronavirus pandemic was not listed as a reason for that purchase but came as the federal prison system was grappling with supply shortages to test and treat prisoners, as well as protect workers who could be exposed to the disease.

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As of Monday, the bureau recorded 195 federal inmates and 63 staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 nationwide. Across the entire network of 122 facilities, there have been eight federal inmate deaths and no staff deaths attributed to the COVID-19 virus.

Within days of the purchase by the bureau, President Trump announced the U.S. had stockpiled 29 million hydroxychloroquine pills, Newsweek reported. The stockpile has only continued to grow, with drug companies, Novartis and Bayer, donating more than 30 million doses for possible use in treating patients hospitalized with COVID-19 or for use in clinical trials.

"They're not expensive. What do you have to lose?" Trump said at the time. "What do I know, I'm not a doctor. But I have common sense."

In a White House press briefing Sunday, Trump once again threw his support behind treating COVID-19 patients with the drug hydroxychloroquine while recognizing further research would need to be done before doctors could confirm its safety and effectiveness.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has warned against overbuying the anti-malaria drug amid the coronavirus pandemic to prevent shortages for patients who need the medication to treat the symptoms of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

FILE- This Jan. 8, 2017 file photo shows the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The federal Bureau of Prisons announced on Saturday, March 20, 2020, that an inmate at the federal jail has tested positive for coronavirus, marking the first confirmed case in the federal prison system. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

FILE- This Jan. 8, 2017 file photo shows the Metropolitan Detention Center in the Brooklyn borough of New York. The federal Bureau of Prisons announced on Saturday, March 20, 2020, that an inmate at the federal jail has tested positive for coronavirus, marking the first confirmed case in the federal prison system. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

On Saturday, he reportedly clashed with White House economic adviser Peter Navarro, who has been working to source the drug from around the world as well as ramp up domestic production capabilities within the U.S., Axios first reported.

In the heated exchange, Fauci reportedly claimed there was only “anecdotal evidence” that shows the drug is effective in treating coronavirus patients. Studies in France and South Korea have been questioned because they did not include control groups.

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In response, Navarro started raising his voice and, pointing to a folder on the desk inside the Situation Room, exclaimed: “That's science, not anecdote." He also accused Fauci of not supporting Trumps’ Chinese travel ban meant to curb the spread of the novel virus.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized pulling hydroxychloroquine from the federal stockpile of medical supplies to treat members of the general public. The Department of Health and Human Services also cleared hydroxychloroquine and two similar drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, for “compassionate use” on extremely ill  COVID-19 patients who have exhausted other treatment methods.