Firebrand backbencher Craig Kelly has been slammed for sharing “dangerous” messages, asking if Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews could “face 25 years in jail” for not promoting hydroxychloroquine, a drug touted by US President Donald Trump as a coronavirus cure.
Australian authorities have warned hydroxychloroquine, long-used as a malaria treatment, poses “well-known serious risks” such as eye damage and heart attack if used incorrectly, while numerous global studies have returned mixed results.
Labor’s shadow health minister, Chris Bowen, derided Mr Kelly’s recent social media output – with 18 Facebook posts about hydroxychloroquine in the last two days – as a “Trumpian rant”.
Mr Trump has hailed hydroxychloroquine as a miracle cure or treatment for coronavirus, but the drug is not being used in Australia for that purpose.
In March, the Therapeutic Goods Administration said it “strongly discourages” using the drug against coronavirus, outlining “limited evidence for effect against COVID-19, as well as the risk of significant adverse effects” like heart, eye and blood sugar issues.
In a May update, the TGA said “the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 is strongly discouraged”.
The TGA said Sanofi – a supplier of hydroxychloroquine products – told doctors that “hydroxychloroquine is not approved for use in Australia for treatment of COVID-19 outside the confines of a clinical trial”, citing “an increased number of reports of serious cardiac issues, including deaths, in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine.”
However, Mr Kelly – Liberal MP for the Sydney seat of Hughes –has been sharing vast quantities of news articles and studies on his Facebook page in recent days, calling for the drug to be made more widely available in Australia.
“There is a special place in hell awaiting those that have been part of the war on Hydroxychloroquine for poltical [sic] reasons. They have the blood of tens of thousands on their hands,” Mr Kelly posted on Monday morning.
“COULD THE VICTORIAN PREMIER (and others) FACE 25 YEARS IN JAIL FOR CONTINUING TO BAN HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE?” he wrote in another post, asking whether not making the drug available could constitute ‘workplace manslaughter’.
In another post, the backbencher said “Hydroxychloroquine is obviously not a panacea for severe cases of Covid-19”.
Mr Bowen slapped down Mr Kelly’s claims as did Labor leader Anthony Albanese.
I’m not going to do Craig Kelly the favour of reposting his offensive & dangerous FB message on Hydroxychloroquine. Suffice it to say there is one body which determines drug safety & efficacy & it’s the TGA. Trumpian rants by Liberal MPs have no place in fighting this pandemic.
— Chris Bowen (@Bowenchris) August 2, 2020
“I was shocked by them, that any member of Parliament would be so irresponsible at a time where Victorians are doing it tough,” Mr Albanese said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison resisted criticising his backbencher on Monday. When asked about the posts at a press conference, Mr Morrison said “I’m not going to get onto what people talk about on Facebook on a day like this”.
Chief medical officer Paul Kelly, standing alongside the PM, said hydroxychloroquine had been proven over many years to be effective in treating malaria – but that “in terms of its use for this particular disease [COVID], the jury’s pretty much out – it doesn’t work.”
Speaking to The New Daily, Mr Kelly said he wanted to see doctors given the option of prescribing the drug, claiming that not prescribing the drug for COVID was “illogical”.
“Mr Bowen needs to do some homework and catch up with the latest medical science and opinions. It should be up to a doctor, and the patient themselves whether to prescribe the drug or not,” he said.
He accepted there was “mixed results” in various studies on the drug, including some that found it had no effect or even negative effects on patients.
“Well, federal authorities haven’t banned its use, they haven’t recommended it,” Mr Kelly replied, when asked about the TGA’s advice on the drug
“There’s a big difference between not recommending it and banning it.”
The drug is also in national political news for another reason on Monday, with mining magnate Clive Palmer’s court challenge to Western Australia’s border closure allegedly sparked by his hope to promote hydroxychloroquine in Perth.
In April, Mr Palmer said he had purchased almost 33 million doses of hydroxychloroquine.
“He wanted to come to Western Australia to promote hydroxychloroquine to the people of the state as some sort of cure for COVID,” WA Premier Mark McGowan said on Monday.
“All the evidence is not only is it not a cure, it’s actually dangerous.”
“Him coming to Western Australia to promote a dangerous drug, I don’t think was a good thing for our state and I’m pleased that (WA Police) rejected him.”
However, Australians are apparently not heeding warnings with the Border Force seizing thousands of hydroxychloroquine doses in recent months.
“ABF officers are screening medical supplies coming into Australia and have seen a significant spike in detections of the herbal medicine Ephedra and Hydroxychloroquine,” the service said on Monday.
“ABF officers have also seized more than 26,000 tablets of Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine between 1 January 2020 and 21 June 2020. Unauthorised importations are referred to the TGA for assessment.”
Erin Dale, ABF Assistant Commissioner for the Port Operations Command, warned Australians against “importing and self-prescribing” the drugs.
“It is illegal to bring these substances into Australia without the proper permits and I strongly urge Australians against importing these items,” she said.
Mr Kelly claimed the spike in illegal imports of the drug was linked to doctors not prescribing it.
“You’re creating the perverse risk of people importing the drug and taking it themselves because doctors can’t prescribe it,” he said.