The CIA, FAA, France, and Rita Wilson warn about taking chloroquine, a now-politicized COVID-19 option

Rita Wilson on CBS
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/CBS News)

Chloroquine and its cousin hydroxychloroquine may end up being a highly effective treatment for COVID-19, but patients who try out the suddenly popular anti-malaria drug have plenty to lose, despite what President Trump says. The Central Intelligence Agency, for example, has quietly warned its employees against using the drug unless prescribed by medical professionals "as part of ongoing investigational studies," because "there are potentially significant side effects, including sudden cardiac death."

The Federal Aviation Administration won't let pilots fly within 48 hours of taking chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, CNN reports. The FAA cautions pilots there's "no satisfactory scientific evidence that use of these medications decreases the severity of the virus."

Rita Wilson, who took chloroquine while battling COVID-19 with her husband, Tom Hanks, described its "extreme side effects" on Tuesday's CBS This Morning. "I was completely nauseous and I had vertigo," Wilson told Gayle King. "I could not walk and my muscles felt very weak. I think people have to be very considerate about that drug. We don't really know if it's helpful in this case."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

France's drug regulator ANSM announced Monday its "initial assessment" on hydroxychloroquine is "that the risks, in particular cardiovascular, associated with these treatments are very present and potentially increased in COVID-19 patients," after at least four patients taking the drug died and dozens more had adverse cardiac events, Politico reports. "France is one of several European countries to raise alarm bells about the medicine touted by Trump." A recent chloroquine study is Brazil was halted after several subjects developed dangerous heart issues.

Several hydroxycloroquine trials are being conducted in the U.S. — South Dakota announced one Monday — and a 46 percent plurality of voters support using the drug before it gets fully vetted by the National Institutes of Health, a Politico/Morning Consult released Wednesday finds. But there is a stark partisan split — 71 percent of Republicans by only 30 percent of Democratic voters support using hydroxycloroquine at this point.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.