For Charles Vavruska, it was nothing short of a miracle cure.
Days after the 53-year-old City Council staffer arrived at New York Presbyterian-Queens hospital barely able to breathe and tested positive for COVID-19, doctors started him on the controversial drug cocktail of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial, and azithromycin, an antibiotic.
Although Vavruska said he felt almost immediately better, he wishes the urgent-care doctor he went to see in the early days of his flu-like symptoms in mid-March could have prescribed a similar treatment before he grew progressively worse and ended up in a hospital room, hooked up to an oxygen tank and fighting for his life.
It’s an opinion shared by President Donald Trump and a growing cadre of physicians and some infectious diseases experts who believe that an effective way to control the spiraling pandemic is to prescribe the anti-malarial at the first sign of symptoms even though it has not gone through the requisite number of clinical trials.
Last week, the American Society of Thoracic Surgeons issued guidelines for doctors to use the anti-malarial if they are in the advanced stages of the coronavirus, but some physicians say that it needs to be administered long before that.
“In a pandemic, we need to be using presumptive diagnoses,” said Marvin Lerner, a retired Manhattan-based physician and infectious diseases expert.
A Rockland County physician said he recently successfully treated 350 patients showing early signs of the coronavirus using a combination of hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin and zinc sulfate in his office. Dr. Vladimir “Zev” Zelenko said the $20 treatment had “100 percent” success in his Monsey practice in a video message he posted to President Trump two weeks ago.
“If anyone has any political influence please make noise because we need the political status to change and these medications to be used without obstruction,” said Zelenko in a YouTube message last week.
Although hydroxychloroquine is used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, the Federal Drug Administration has only approved it for treatment of COVID-19 in advanced cases of the virus and by the time patients have to rely on ventilators. Pharmacists in New York state are only allowed to fill prescriptions for the FDA-approved uses of the drug.
Last week New York City Councilman Robert Holden urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to remove restrictions on the drug. “The anecdotal evidence is too strong to ignore,” the lawmaker wrote in an April 7 letter. “Personally, I have been contacted by a number of my constituents who were treated with the hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin combination in New York hospitals. They reported feeling an immediate improvement … and they have since recovered.”
One of those recovered patients is Vavruska, who works in the councilman’s Queens office.
“I kept the packet of the drug when I left the hospital because I wanted to show my friend Sal who had been home with fever for 10 days,” Vavruska told The Post. “I gave Sal the packet but it’s banned from the pharmacies and he couldn’t get it.
“I really believe if he had gotten the treatment, he would be alive today.”