Off label, compassionate and irrational use of medicines in Covid-19 pandemic, health consequences and ethical issues

Cien Saude Colet. 2020 Sep;25(9):3413-3419. doi: 10.1590/1413-81232020259.16792020. Epub 2020 Aug 28.


When Covid-19 emerged in December last year, there was no vaccine nor was there specific effective treatment for this fast-spreading and life-threatening viral respiratory infection. Clinical trials were planned and are in progress to investigate whether drugs used for influenza, HIV and other viruses, and also anthelmintics (ivermectin, nitazoxanide, niclosamide), and antimalarials (chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine) showing antiviral activity in in vitro assays, are effective and safe for Covid-19. So far there is no convincing evidence that these antiviral and antiparasitic drugs are of any benefit for Covid-19. Notwithsanding the absence of evidence of clinical efficacy, these drugs are widely used outside of clinical trials (off label) for prophylaxis and treatment of this viral infection. The rationale behind the prescription of macrolide antibiotics (azithromycin) for Covid-19 is obscure as well. The widespread prescription and use of drugs of unproven efficacy and safety for Covid-19 is at odds with the rational use of medicines, a cornerstone principle of pharmacotherapy advanced by WHO in 1985. This irrational use of drugs is cause for concern because some of them are associated with serious heart disorders and deaths.

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antiviral Agents / adverse effects
  • COVID-19
  • COVID-19 Drug Treatment
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / statistics & numerical data
  • Off-Label Use*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / drug therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards


  • Antiviral Agents