The Impact of the COVID-19 "Infodemic" on Drug-Utilization Behaviors: Implications for Pharmacovigilance

Drug Saf. 2020 Aug;43(8):699-709. doi: 10.1007/s40264-020-00965-w.


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that hit the world in 2020 triggered a massive dissemination of information (an "infodemic") about the disease that was channeled through the print, broadcast, web, and social media. This infodemic also included sensational and distorted information about drugs that likely first influenced opinion leaders and people particularly active on social media and then other people, thus affecting choices by individual patients everywhere. In particular, information has spread about some drugs approved for other indications (chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor antagonists, favipiravir, and umifenovir) that could have led to inappropriate and therefore hazardous use. In this article, we analyze the rationale behind the claims for use of these drugs in COVID-19, the communication about their effects on the disease, the consequences of this communication on people's behavior, and the responses of some influential regulatory authorities in an attempt to minimize the actual or potential risks arising from this behavior. Finally, we discuss the role of pharmacovigilance stakeholders in emergency management and possible strategies to deal with other similar crises in the future.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Betacoronavirus
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Coronavirus Infections* / classification
  • Coronavirus Infections* / drug therapy
  • Coronavirus Infections* / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections* / psychology
  • Drug Utilization / trends*
  • Humans
  • Information Dissemination* / ethics
  • Information Dissemination* / methods
  • Medication Therapy Management / ethics
  • Medication Therapy Management / standards
  • Pandemics*
  • Pharmacovigilance
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / drug therapy
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral* / psychology
  • Public Health* / methods
  • Public Health* / standards
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Social Media / ethics
  • Social Media / standards
  • Social Medicine / ethics
  • Social Medicine / standards