GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan lawmaker is leading the charge to allow doctors to use unapproved medications to treat COVID-19.
State Rep. Mary Whiteford, R-South Haven, introduced House Bill 5637 in December which would allow doctors to prescribe experimental treatments without the fear of punishment.
She said she came up with the idea after suffering loss in her own life.
“It goes back to my daughter-in-law, and the fact that her grandpa was dying and ended up dying, and she had no ability to do anything,” Whiteford said. “And then in retrospect she was like, wait, could something have helped? Could something have saved her grandpa?”
While Whiteford believes he should have had a chance at an experimental drug, the Food and Drug Administration warns against using Ivermectin, saying the medication hasn’t been effective in clinical trials.
Dr. Douglas Hoch, the Medical Director for Muskegon County Public Health, said the data is clear.
“It’s really a drug that’s approved for parasitic infections, ringworms in humans and a bunch of other things in veterinary medicine,” Hoch said. “It was studied, and it did not make the grade. It did not improve outcomes. We are looking for things that are real like reduced risk of hospitalization, etc. It didn’t. It failed. It’s a drug for worms.”
If the bill passes, patients with “advanced illness” would have to sign a consent form, acknowledging that receiving any experimental drug could worsen their condition.
“The description must include the possibility that new, unanticipated, different, or worse symptoms might result, and that death could be hastened by the proposed treatment,” the bill states.
The consent form also notes that insurance may not cover the cost of using the medication, and their eligibility for hospice care could be withdrawn.
Whiteford said that as the pandemic drags on, patients and doctors have the right to use these drugs if they’re comfortable with it.
“This is ongoing, COVID isn’t going away just like HIV didn’t go away,” Whiteford said. “But we’ve got to be able to try these different medications.”
Under the legislation, any experimental drug being used must pass the first phase of a clinical trial. However, that phase mainly focuses on the safety of the medication, not its ability to treat a disease.
Whiteford added that the bill doesn’t institute any mandate.
“Nobody has to do this,” Whiteford said. “No doctor has to prescribe it…it goes back to the patient and the doctor if they feel comfortable with it.”
She expects the Health Policy Committee to vote on her bill next week.
In the meantime, pharmacies are receiving new treatments – oral antivirals – that Hoch says are showing real promise.
“A brand name for one is Paxlovid, which is ever exciting,” Hoch said. “We don’t have as much of it as we want to. This will be a game-changer.”