Background: The global push for the use of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) and chloroquine (CQ) against COVID-19 resulted in an ongoing discussion about the effectivity and toxicity of these drugs. Recent studies report no effect of (H)CQ on 28 day-mortality. We investigated the effect of HCQ and CQ in hospitalized patients on the non-ICU COVID-ward.
Methods: A nationwide, observational cohort study was performed in The Netherlands. Hospitals were given the opportunity to decide independently on the use of three different COVID-19 treatment strategies: HCQ or CQ, or no treatment. We compared the outcome between these groups. The primary outcomes were 1) death on the COVID-19 ward, and 2) transfer to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU).
Results: The analysis contained 1064 patients from 14 hospitals: 566 patients received treatment with either HCQ (n = 189) or CQ (n = 377), and 498 patients received no treatment. In a multivariate propensity matched weighted competing regression analysis, there was no significant effect of (H)CQ on mortality on the COVID-ward. HCQ however was associated with a significant decreased risk of transfer to the ICU (Hazard ratio (HR) = 0.47, 95%CI = 0.27-0.82, p = 0.008), when compared to controls. This effect was not found in the CQ group (HR = 0.80; 95%CI = 0.55-1.15, p = 0.207), and remained significant after competing risk analysis.
Conclusion: The results of this observational study demonstrate a lack of effect of (H)CQ on non-ICU mortality. However, we show that the use of HCQ – but not CQ – is associated with 53% decreased risk of transfer of COVID-19 patients from the regular ward to the ICU. Recent prospective studies have reported on 28 days all-cause mortality only, therefore additional prospective data on the early effect of HCQ in preventing transfer to the ICU is still needed.