COVID-19 Watch FACT CHECK Health

VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Dexamethasone is ‘life-saving’ only for some SEVERE COVID-19 cases

The headline of a June 17 article published by local website Thoughtskoto ( paints an incomplete picture of the low-cost steroid dexamethasone as a “life-saving” drug for COVID-19 patients. This needs context.

The RECOVERY trial — the British government’s program to test six treatment options to fight the coronavirus disease, including dexamethasone — found the drug to be effective only on critically-ill COVID-19 patients that require ventilators and supplemental oxygen.

There was no observed benefit on patients who did not require respiratory support.

The preliminary results of the clinical trial, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, were announced by its chief investigators from the University of Oxford on June 16.

The limitation of the drug’s effects as being beneficial only to severe COVID-19 cases was pointed out in Thoughtskoto’s content, but its title misleadingly suggests the “cheap” drug will heal anybody with the disease: “P3,150 Lamang ang Magagastos sa Gamot na Ito, Maisasalba ang Buhay mo Laban sa Corona Virus (You will only spend P3,150 on this medicine and your life will be saved from the coronavirus).”

The caption used by the FB groups that shared the post — ‘nobody has to die anymore from COVID-19’ — is also misleading.

The research only demonstrated how dexamethasone reportedly cut COVID-19 deaths by one-third in ventilated patients and one-eighth in patients requiring oxygen alone.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire has warned the public on June 17 that dexamethasone was not a “magic pill” against the coronavirus disease, after reports and online advertisements of the drug went viral on social media.

She said it “is intended to be part of supportive care” for critical COVID-19 patients and is neither “a cure” for the disease nor a “prophylaxis” that would prevent one from acquiring the virus.

The P3,150 amount that Thoughtskoto’s article repeatedly brandishes seems to be rooted from a BBC article, parts of which were roughly translated by the Filipino website.

According to Martin Landray, one of the study’s lead investigators, the treatment involves 10 days of dexamethasone administration using the generic drug that costs about £5, summing up to about £50 per person. This converts to around P3,100 based on current exchange rates.

Facebook groups DSWD & DOLE, DSWD 5K to 8K Financial Assistance / SAP, and Usapang SSS(OFFICIAL GROUP) were the top traffic generators of the Thoughtskoto article, which received 17,000 interactions in three days, and could have reached over seven million netizens on the platform, social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle shows.

Thoughtskoto was registered as a website on July 16, 2010.

(Editor’s Note: VERA Files has partnered with Facebook to fight the spread of disinformation. Find out more about this partnership and our methodology.)